Community leaders discuss surge in anti-Semitic incidents


Jason Beeferman/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty speaks to community members about the rise of antisemitism on Tuesday. The event, hosted at Beth Emet synagogue, featured a panel.

Jason Beeferman, Reporter

Community leaders and residents discussed the recent rise of anti-Semitism and its historical context at Beth Emet Synagogue on Tuesday.

From 2015 to 2017, the Midwest saw a 110 percent increase in reported incidents of anti-Semitism, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s 2018 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.

Lara Trubowitz, the education director for ADL’s Midwest region and associate director of the ADL’s National College & University programs, said she has even seen a surge of incidents in elementary schools.

“More and more, I am getting calls from superintendents who are saying things like, ‘My second graders are starting to do Heil Hitler salutes,” Trubowitz said.

The panel also included Northwestern Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies professors David Shyovitz and Sara Yael Hirschhorn, who examined anti-Semitism through a historical and contemporary lens.

Shyovitz described how the different frameworks in which anti-Semitism is referenced can change the approach to dealing with it. Shyovitz said anti-Semitism has been historically viewed as either a virus — a living thing that won’t go away and will only mutate — or as a toolkit that is not inevitable, but rather brought about by the the actions of people.

“If we think about anti-Semitism as doing things, then there’s nothing we can ever do because it’s eternal and unchanging and everlasting,” Shyovitz said. “If we’re going to fight anti-Semitism in 2020, let’s think about what it’s doing in 2020, rather than trying to fit it into this 2000 or 5000-year-old history.”

Attendees also included Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen and Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty.

“There’s an underbelly to the world. I’ve seen that underbelly here in Evanston (with) the rising hate that is out there,” Hagerty said. “I want you to know that I and the vast, vast majority of Evanstonians stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and we always will.”

Trubowitz also spoke about the various symbols neo-Nazi groups use. She said white supremacists have tried to spread a narrative that Jewish people “are trying to contribute to the destruction of the white race in America.”

Beth Emet Synagogue’s senior Rabbi Andrea London said the quantity and gravity of the facts and history of anti-Semitism can be a lot to process.

“The mood is a bit of overwhelm, of ‘Wow this is quite serious and we’re not exactly sure how to address all these things,’” London said. “This was a very high level conversation with a lot of, not only information we can use, but also trying to think of the academic context of anti-Semitism.”

Despite the heavy subject matter, the talk ended with a song that looked toward the possibility of peace.

Keyboardist-composer Barb Wertico and Cantor Kyle Cotler ended the night with the performance of an original song whose lyrics are taken from a speech given by the late Beth Emet Rabbi Peter Knobel at a vigil for the Tree of Life synagogue shooting last year. The song was completed after Rabbi Knobel passed away last March.

“Love can conquer hate,” Cotler sang. “Love can conquer hate.”

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