American society is changing. There has been an election-year surge in the number of anti-Semitic incidents and crimes that we have not seen in a decade. In fact though, the ADL reports that already in 2015, there was a 3% increase in overall incidents and a dramatic 50% increase in assaults, the most violent anti-Semitic category it tracks. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there has been a significant rise in hate crimes overall, with anti-immigrant incidents being the most prevalent. While the election year rhetoric clearly has had an impact, the statistics over a two-year period reflect a larger trend.
And this is not just occurring in rural communities or parts of the country with few Jews or minorities, it is happening in our community. Last week at the community forum held at CESJDS, Montgomery County officials shared that there has been a spike in the number of hate crimes in our local area. County Executive Ike Leggett and Police Chief Tom Manger condemned these acts and noted that they were incredulous that this is taking place in our community. A parent in one of our local public middle schools reported that anti-Semitic incidents are rampant in her child's school, which is located in Bethesda.
As I listened to the speakers and attendees at the event last week, I reflected that I have not experienced this level of hate and anti-Semitism in my lifetime. I may have been naïve (as some have expressed), or optimistic that the United States had essentially moved beyond the historical discrimination that Jewish communities have lived with for centuries. Today, I am much more clear-eyed that there is a very real threat to our community. To be sure, Jews as a whole remain safer, more well-organized as a community, and respected in American society than in any other country in the world outside Israel. The Jewish community is politically significant beyond our numbers and integrated into American society well ahead of most other minority groups, yet we must remain vigilant to the growing hatred and sentiments towards Jews and other minority groups.
As an educator, I wonder about the impact this environment has on students and whether the curriculum of schools and other educational settings is positioned to address the current reality. Jewish history and the lessons of Jews who lived in overtly hostile countries is an essential component for students. The value of studying history as a core subject is critical, and, unfortunately, few Jewish day schools have a significant scope and sequence in this area or a department dedicated to this discipline. At the same time, Jewish educators must consider how the learners we work with are prepared to address the current reality they face beyond the sacred and safe communities in our own schools. Are graduates prepared to face the onslaught of anti-Semitism on college campuses and are our students ready for the comments they may experience walking in their neighborhoods or when participating in activities in the larger community?
I, personally, am also committed to being more involved and vocal regarding all reports of racism, hate-speech, and anti-Semitism. I have signed onto more open letters and written my elected officials more often recently to respond to these events and to express my outrage when any leaders express views that are hateful or decline to forcefully condemn racism when it occurs. CESJDS has positioned itself as a leader in facilitating forums like the one we held last week to highlight and combat the threats to our community and other minority groups. I urge you to consider how you will respond too.
Follow Mitch on Twitter: @MitchMalkus