Responding to Hate

Guila Franklin Siegel, Associate Director, JCRC of Greater Washington

“There is nothing new beneath the sun!  Sometimes there is something of which one says: “Look, this is new!” - it has already existed in the ages before us. Ecclesiastes, Chapter 1, Verses 9-10

So observes the author of one of the most poetic, philosophical books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes. Traditionally understood to have been written by King Solomon, Ecclesiastes is read by Jews each year during the fall festival of Sukkot, which this year begins on the evening of Wednesday October 4th

How trenchant is this ancient insight in light of the tragic events that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia in August. The resurgence of pro-Nazi, racist, anti-Semitic, white nationalist movements in the United States feels simultaneously bizarre and yet eerily familiar. For an entire generation of American Jews, the specter of torch-bearing hatemongers chanting “Jews will not replace us!” is completely new and utterly terrifying. It has been decades since such a bold, public expression of anti-Semitism has been seen in the United States. Yet we understand that virulent hatred of Jews is an age-old pernicious disease, one which might lie dormant for varying periods only to once again bubble to the surface.

The greater Washington, D.C. area has not been immune to this national trend. In Montgomery County alone, bias incidents increased by 80% during the first half of 2017 as compared with the first half of 2016. Religiously-based incidents outnumbered those motivated by other types of bias; 84% of the religiously-motivated incidents were targeted to Jews. 43% of all reported incidents occurred in school settings, including vandalism of school property with swastikas, and harassing and taunting of Jewish students via text and in person.

Fortunately, our community has many resources to help local Jewish residents who experience an act of anti-Semitism, or who are concerned about anti-Semitism in their children’s schools, their workplaces, or elsewhere.

JCRC - The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) stands ready to assist any member of the local DMV community in dealing with the challenges of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate-based bias.  

  • Call the JCRC office, 301-770-0881, at any time to report an incident, request help in navigating law enforcement agencies, school system bureaucracies, and the like, or to plan an educational program for your synagogue, school, or other institution. 
  • Each year the JCRC prepares a holiday calendar highlighting religious observances for a wide range of faiths, which is distributed to school administrators throughout the region along with guidelines for excusing students from classes and exams on those days. These resources are available on the JCRC website at www.jcouncil.org.  
  • JCRC’s Holocaust Survivors Speakers Bureau arranges for local survivors to share their testimonies with students at schools throughout our region. Pre-teens and teens who hear first-hand from survivors are more likely to understand the profound significance of swastika graffiti and other Holocaust imagery and language, and why engaging in anti-Semitic harassment is so damaging and dangerous.   
  • Throughout the academic year, the JCRC sponsors periodic programs for parents on the topic of helping children deal with anti-Semitism and other bias in public schools. Our next two programs in Maryland and Virginia are scheduled for 

October 22nd, 7:00 pm,  Bender JCC, 6125 Montrose Road, Rockville, MD 20852
October 29th, 7:00 pm,  NoVa JCC, 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031

Please check the JCRC website at www.jcouncil.org for additional information about these events.

Anti-Defamation League, Washington, D.C. office [insert contact information]  - the ADL tracks incidents of anti-Semitism locally and nationally and provides a wealth of resources to schools and other institutions working to combat hatred and promote tolerance. Information about ADL’s highly regarded school curricula and other programs can be found at www.adl.org or 202-452-8310.

Local police departments  - If you believe you have experienced or witnessed an anti-Semitic incident, please report it to local law enforcement. Even if the particular incident does not rise to the level of an actual crime, the information you provide might assist police to track potentially troublesome individuals or potentially dangerous trends in our neighborhoods and communities. Both the JCRC and ADL’s regional office maintain excellent relationships with our local law enforcement officials and agencies and can assist you in outreach if necessary.   

Montgomery County Office of Human RightsThe Office of Human Rights investigates incidents of hate/violence and complaints of discrimination. Victims of hate/violence crimes can seek compensation for replacement of property through the County's Partnership Fund. 240-777-8450.

District of Columbia Office of Human Rights, Monica Palacio, Esq., Director, monica.palacio@dc.gov, 202-727-4559.

It is human nature to withdraw and “circle the wagons” at a time when one feels under attack. However, even as we recoil from the violent, hateful images we have witnessed over the last several months, we must not disengage from the vibrant tapestry that is American society in 2017. The best antidote to anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred is to deepen our connections to other faith and ethnic groups, continue to advocate for laws and public policies that address the insidious impact of hate crimes and promote tolerance, and live our lives freely as proud American Jews.