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Identity & Community

More than 80% of American Jews say antisemitism has increased over the past five years

Tree of Life fence photo.jpg
Kathleen Davis
/
90.5 WESA
In this file photo from 2019, a fence outside the Tree of Life synagogue bears 101 images from young people around the world. The display was installed nearly one year after a mass shooting took place in the building.

A new survey from the American Jewish Committee reports nearly four out of ten American Jewish people have changed their behavior in the last year out of fear of antisemitism. According to advocates, the number is part of a continuing trend of anxiety among the Jewish community in the United States.

Lauren Bairnsfather, the director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, said concerns about antisemitism could discourage Jewish people from outwardly expressing their faith by wearing a kippah or the Star of David. It could even make them less likely to attend community events.

Antisemitism, she said, “can hide. … It’s like it’s everywhere and nowhere.”

“It’s a deeply disturbing thing,” said Jewish Federation Community Relations Council director Laura Cherner. “Psychologically, that’s really dangerous that American Jews feel not safe in their own home, and therefore they can’t fully be themselves without fear of being attacked or some kind of retribution.”

More than 80% of American Jews said they believe antisemitism has increased over the past five years, but only 44% of the general public shares that view. And while 15% of Americans said antisemitism has decreased, only 3% of American Jews agreed.

“There continues to be a divergence [over] whether antisemitism has increased or not,” said Holly Huffnagle, the U.S. director for combating antisemitism at the American Jewish Committee. “We still unfortunately see lower levels of awareness amongst U.S. adults that antisemitism has increased.”

The report also showed that about one in four Jewish people in America have been the target of antisemitism over the past year, either in person or online.

The report results come three years after the shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue building. Eleven people were killed and six were injured in the deadliest attack on Jewish people in U.S. history.

The American Jewish Committee launched the survey after the attack, in an effort to track views of and experiences with antisemitism in the United States. Huffnagle said that for many people, the attack on the three congregations that gathered at Tree of Life was a wakeup call.

The survey shows that 21% of the general public agrees that antisemitism is a “very serious” problem: That’s an increase from 19% in polling done one year ago, though it still lags the percentage of Jewish Americans who say antisemitism is a major worry.

“We’re still seeing a trend that shows us that it’s a problem,” said Huffnagle. “But we do see, I would say, even some glimpses of hope for the future if more and more people, more and more non-Jews join the Jewish community in the fight.”

In the years after the shooting, the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh and other organizations have pivoted to not only teach about past antisemitism, but to address present-day discrimination against Jewish people.

“Very quickly we began to do programming to combat antisemitism — not only to respond when we see it happening in violent ways, but to connect with people, with communities and see our common humanity,” said Bairnsfather.

Strengthening relationships with non-Jewish groups will be key to eradicating antisemitism, said Cherner.

“[A]ntisemitism is at the core of white supremacy,” she said. “And so, there’s a level of allyship, that these groups need to stick together.”

“Where there’s antisemitism, there’s hatred of all minorities,” Bairnsfather agreed. “Countering antisemitism should not be the work of Jews alone. In order to really overcome violent hate, we have to work together.”