“I doubt there’s a synagogue in the US that doesn’t think seriously about security.”
In the wake of Saturday’s shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, which took the lives of 11, many are examining the upwards trend in anti-Semitism in the Western world. This most recent tragedy is the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, but the Associated Press points out that anti-Semitic sentiment has been consistently growing.
Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but in annual FBI data they repeatedly account for more than half of the Americans targeted by hate crimes committed due to religious bias. The Anti-Defamation League identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2017, up from 1,267 in 2016, and also reported a major increase in anti-Semitic online harassment.
Of the thousands of reports of anti-Semitism, the vast majority of instances were not deadly. However, 15 years ago the threat of violence to the Jewish community led the the Anti-Defamation League to the release a 132-page guidebook titled, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today’s Dangerous World.” The book suggests ways to control access to facilities and urges leaders of Jewish institutions to consider hiring armed guards.
Unfortunately, even with a level of preparedness, there have been several instances of fatal attacks against the Jewish community. Some of the most recents include:
—In June 2009, a gunman who had anti-Semitic writings in his car killed a security guard while trying to enter the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
—In April 2014, Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. fatally shot a 69-year-old man and his 14-year-old grandson at a Jewish community center in suburban Kansas City, then killed a woman at the nearby Village Shalom retirement center.
Co-president of one of the congregations that used the Tree of Life Synagogue, Stephen Cohen, told the AP that leaders of the facility had held active shooter drills and were confident that they were prepared for anything. Unfortunately, while they do hire armed guards for major Jewish holidays, there were none on duty this Saturday, during the incident.
“I doubt there’s a synagogue in the US that doesn’t think seriously about security,” said Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “It’s really sad that you can’t go to a house of worship without thinking you’re taking your life in your hands.”
America’s rising trend of anti-Semitism is not unique to the rest of the world. In Germany 1,453 anti-Semitic instances were recorded in 2017 and in France anti-Semitic violence is reported to have increased by 25% in the last year. In both of these countries police and even military patrols are stationed in front of synagogues and other Jewish institutions.
Another area in which anti-Semitism is on the rise is on college and university campuses in the U.S., where incidents nearly doubled in 2017, from 108 to 204. Another report from the Anti-Defamation League noted that online harassment of Jewish journalists, political candidates, and others has increased as the mid-term elections draw near.