One thousand people gathered at the community forum on Anti-Semitism Jan 23.
One thousand people gathered at the community forum on anti-Semitism Jan 23.

Leaders inform, reassure and encourage action at a community forum on anti-Semitism at Adat Shalom synagogue that drew 1,000 people.

Featured image by John Hardwick

Anti-Semitism has existed throughout much of the world for centuries, but most American Jews who were not alive during the Holocaust have been sheltered from its worst manifestations.

As verbal assaults and minor vandalism have become more common and escalated to beatings and murders of American Jews during the past several years, concern has ratcheted up.

In response, the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, ADL of Michigan and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit presented a “Jewish Community Forum on Anti-Semitism” Jan. 23 at Adat Shalom Synagogue. Approximately 1,000 individuals, mostly members of the Jewish community but also local and state government officials, law enforcement representatives and other concerned citizens, came together for information, guidance and reassurance.

The audience listened intently as local rabbis, heads of Jewish agencies, a historian and an FBI representative provided background and updates on recent anti-Semitic events, as well as community responses to “the new wave of hate.”

Professor Howard Lupovitch of Wayne State University’s Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies discussed anti-Semitism in the context of “a rise in intolerance and rage during the last three years or so,” spurred by social media, “which profits from fear and outrage” and the “manipulation of some politicians.” He decried the lack of outrage on attacks on Chasidic Jews in New York. “An attack on any Jew is an attack on every Jew,” he said.

Other speakers also stressed the need for unity. Rabbi Yisrael Pinson of Chabad in the D said, “We need to be proud of our Jewish identity, Jewish practice and Torah values.”

Rabbi Azaryah Cohen of Frankel Jewish Academy stressed the need to educate non-Jews about Judaism. “There isn’t one right reaction except coming together,” he said. “Anti-Semitic remarks are usually made out of ignorance.”

Ruth Bergman of the Holocaust Memorial Center talked about the importance of teaching people to take action when there is injustice.

“It’s not OK to let it go,” said Carolyn Normandin of ADL Michigan. “No Jew is safe until everyone is safe. Stand up.”

Several speakers thanked representatives of other religious faiths who have been supportive after anti-Semitic incidents in recent years. “We have to go outside the bubble and develop relationships,” said Rabbi Asher Lopatin of JCRC/AJC. “We need to connect with other communities to create lasting relationships.”

An overview of security efforts to protect the Jewish community was an important aspect of the program. David Kurzmann of the Jewish Federation said that Federation’s annual security budget in 2010 was $250,000 but has risen to $1.8 million. “We cannot outspend this problem, but we can prepare as best as possible.”

Joseph Lupinacci of the Detroit FBI Office discussed the close relationship between federal law enforcement, local police agencies and the local Jewish community. He urged attendees to report any anti-Semitic incidents to local law enforcement, which coordinates closely with the FBI. “Taking civil rights violations very seriously empowers victims,” he said.

Security at the program included multiple patrol cars and officers from the Farmington Hills Police Department and private security guards, some in uniform and others in plain clothes. While tighter security has become essential, speakers agreed that a balance must be maintained so that Jewish institutions remain welcoming places.

“The program was excellent. The main theme is that Jews and non-Jews need to come together to fight hatred and bigotry. The Jewish community is ready to do that and to make sure this community and all others in Michigan are safe and secure,” said Mary Sue Schottenfels of West Bloomfield.

If you experience or witness acts of anti-Semitism or a hate crime, here are resources you may turn to:

  • ADL-Michigan, (248) 353-7553
  • JCRC/AJC, (248) 642-5393, info@jcrcajc.org
  • Federation’s Community-Wide Security Department, security@jfmd.org
  • Your local law enforcement agency
  • FBI Detroit, (313) 965-2323, or go to fbi.gov and click on “Submit a Tip”

 

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