How deep should our concern be over the ugly spate of anti-Semitic sentiment on display in our community in recent days?
Jewish organizations and leaders responded with appropriate outrage over a spree of swastika and “KKK” graffiti in Midwood, Brooklyn, violently punctuated with the burning of several parked cars under cover of darkness late Friday night.
Fortunately no one was injured, but the emotional trauma, particularly among survivors of the Holocaust in the neighborhood, was deep and disturbing, echoing memories of Kristallnacht, exactly 73 years ago, that marked a darker phase of anti-Jewish hatred in Nazi Germany.
We are blessed to be living in the United States, where bigotry and racial hatred are condemned widely by citizens as well as elected officials.
On Sunday, political officeholders and hundreds of others of good will marched down Ocean Parkway to give voice to their sentiments, affirming human rights and speaking out against ethnic violence and slurs. It was comforting to see citizens ready to stand up and be counted when it comes to countering hate, which is welcome news, given that there are still those who get a thrill out of perpetrating acts of hate.
Friday’s vandalism follows a similar spree in Queens earlier last week, for which the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force quickly arrested a man. (The suspect told police he acted because Jewish people were harassing him, District Attorney Richard Brown said.)
Both incidents came on the heels of an Anti-Defamation League survey suggesting that an alarming 15 percent of Americans — some 45 million-plus people — hold anti-Semitic attitudes, up 3 percent from the last survey in 2009.
As the ADL has noted, the swastika, despite its roots, has become an angry protest symbol of choice for miscreants everywhere, whether they have a particular beef against Jews or just society as a whole. So the incidents, including the targeting of two Queens library branches and a church, don’t necessarily mean we’re on the cusp of an anti-Semitic hate wave. We expect the authorities will get to the bottom of these crimes and sort out the motives as they have done in the past.
In the meantime, these ugly incidents were a reminder that vigilance is still a requirement and that anti-Semitism persists in 21st-century America. That’s why good people must continue to raise their voices in response. Mesivta Rambam Yeshiva in Lawrence, L.I., deserves special mention for bringing its students to protest the Queens crimes and contributing books about the Holocaust to the libraries that were vandalized.
There is no more fitting response to ignorance than education.
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