New York attack just the latest event worrying Brevard Jews that antisemitism on the rise – Florida Today

Posted By on January 2, 2020

For Jewish people across the state, thecountry, and the world, the otherwise festive last night of Hanukkah 2019 was punctuated by solemnity and solidarity, in the wake of astabbing attack in New York on a rabbi's home during the candle-lighting to mark the2,200-year-old holiday the night before.

"I'm horrified,"Rabbi-Cantor Patricia Hickman told FLORIDA TODAY Monday, "who could ever imagine that a lunatic would do that, enter a rabbi's home with a machete?"

More: 5 stabbed in 'act of domestic terrorism' at Hanukkah party

"We will need all the light, strength and courage we can muster to dispel the darkness that has insidiously invaded our homes and places of worship," Hickman wrote Sunday in a letter to her congregation.

In it she shared a 1932 photograph from a Jewish home in Germany where a menorah was placed in a window in view of a Nazi flag.The image has recently resurfaced on social media with a modern spin on its original caption: "Our light will outlast their flag".

Chanukah Menorah in the window of Rabbi Akova Boruch Posner, opposite the Nazi Party headquarters building in Kiel, Germany, in 1932. The back of the photo was captioned, in German: 'Death to Judah', So the flag says, 'Judah will live forever', So the light answers"(Photo: Rachel Posner (public domain))

Even before the attackin New York that left five people seriously injured, Jewish residents acrossBrevard Countyhave felt a shared sense that anti-Jewish sentiment is rising locally as much as nationally.

The massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018, fliers left by white supremacists at a 'Little Free Library' in Cape Canaveral in May claiming that Jews push pornographyon children, a discussion seemingly promoting antisemitic conspiracieson a talk radio show in August, these events may be disconnected from one another, but they contribute to a collective sense of unease.

Data appears to support the feeling. TheFederal Bureau of Investigation shows that hate crimes have beenon the rise in the United States since 2014 and The Anti-Defamation League's tracking of antisemitic incidents reveals a parallel upwards trend.

Brevard Countyis not immune from the national current. According to the ADL's data-set of self-reported antisemitic and extremist incidents, between 2002 and 2014 Brevard County recorded zero incidents, while from 2015 to 2019 there were seven. In a county where Jews make up less than 1% of the total population, the sudden spike in antisemitic incidents has been deeply felt.

"Anti-semitism is the oldest and most pernicious forms of hatred.We won't put up with it in Florida." South Brevard StateRepresentative Randy Fine tweeted out late on Sunday night.

The presence of armed security at local congregations for weekend services since the synagogue shootings in Pittsburghreflects thesensethat similar events are not impossible here.

"I'm not happy about it," saidJeff Fishkin of the need for a Sheriff's deputy to stand guard outside the doors of Temple Israel on a Friday evening.

But, he added, "having a police officer is essential."

Sheriff's deputies now stand guard outside all ofBrevard's Jewish congregations for every shabbatservice, at the worshipper's expense, a fact that Fine said he plans to change.

"You should not have to pay money to worship in peace," Fine told FLORIDA TODAY, promising to bring up the issue with the Governor.

"You can't say, hey,if you want to be Jewish you've got to hire the police, you've got to rent the police to keep you safe," he said.

While antisemitism has always existed, and manifested locally, such as when Temple Israel's building in Viera was defaced with swastika graffiti in the 90's, there's a feeling that it is far more open than before.

"The general trend is following the national trend, which is that its becoming more prevalent and more open," saidRabbi Craig Mayers of Temple Beth Sholom, the oldest congregation in Brevard, whichdatesback to 1957.

But it's not just more visible, Mayers also saidthat antisemitism has taken on "amore hateful component" than in the past.

For example, he said, past common occurrences such as aJewish kid being teaseda school or an employer not understanding Jewish holidayswere usually a matter of"benign ignorance."

"There's an ignorance ... we make up 1 percent of Brevard population... there was a genuine search for knowledge," he said, but now "its over the top, its beyond the pale."

In August, a social media stir resulted from a Facebook comment telling State Rep. Fineto "go back to Boca." Boca Raton has a high proportion of Jewish residents. Fine is Jewish,but not from Boca.

Related: Anti-Semitic 'go back to Boca' post against Fine creates social media stir

Also in August, WMMB talk radio host Bill Mick kept a caller on air for 10 minutes who peddled in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

In response, 23faith leaders and organisations, including representatives of Judaism, Christianity and Islam in Brevard County pennedan open letter in which they joined the Florida Anti Defamation League in their condemnation of the on-airexchange betweenMick and the caller to "Bill Mick Live" and demanded at a minimum, an apology.

Mick declined to comment and neither the station nor parent company iHeartMedia took any action in response to the letters.

Previously: Anti-Defamation League sends complaint, says comments on 'Bill Mick Live' were anti-Semitic

Previously: Brevard faith leaders demand apology in open letter to Bill Mick

For some, blame lies atthe top, whether through silence orinflammatory rhetoric, saying political leaders spanning the political spectrumfrom Republican President Donald Trumpto freshmen Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omarand Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have contributed.

"I think a lot of it has to do with what's going on in Washington, (D.C.)," saidFishkin.

Fine said "Ill call it out on both sides, neither party has a monopoly on antisemitism."

Randy Fine chairs the Brevard County legislative delegation.(Photo: PROVIDED PHOTO)

Fine was key in signing into state law measures to combat antisemitismin Florida schools. Specifically, it make antisemitism in schools equivalent to racial discrimination.

The law has been criticized for also defining antisemitism in terms that include demonization of the state of Israel, antizionism or applying a "double standard" towards the conduct of Israel,which some, including Jewish community leaders, felt was heavy handed.

The law also defines antisemitism as playing on dual loyalty tropes, which have been the source of several political flashpoints last year.

More: DeSantis says anti-Semitism in Florida schools verboten after bill signing in Israel

For instance when President Trump said "I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.

Fine and other defenders of the President insisted this wasn't a loyalty smear as critics contend.

The statement drew the ire of many Jewish leaders and groups across the country, who condemned it for playing into timeless anti-Semitic 'loyalty' tropes. The same criticism had been leveled in months prior against freshmen democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and by proxy Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Notwithstanding his view on the President's controversial remark, Fine said he felt the national trend was reflected locally and the trend is negative, not positive.

"It is the ugliest time I have experienced in my life as a Jewish person," he said.

Rabbi Craig Mayers was recently ordained and installed as rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Suntree. (Photo: MALCOLM DENEMARK/FLORIDA TODAY)

For Mayers, the lackof clarity behind Trump's disloyalty comment "Disloyal to what?" he askeddoesn't help.

Rabbi-Cantor Hickman,who has led the nearly six-decade-old Temple Israel congregation in Brevard for 17 years, describes the trend as "extremely disturbing."

"It's part of the life of being a Jew, you know, no matter where you live, it seems thatthere are people who are antisemitic."

While not particularly pronounced in Brevard, where she feels "tremendous support" from fellow non-Jewish faith leaders,she nonetheless sees the county as following national trends.

Rabbi Pat Hickman(Photo: FILE)

"There's always been an undercurrent, but it seems to have been given voice now. And it seems to be coming out more than ever before," Hickman said.

More: Explore the ADL's heat map of antisemitic incidents around the country

In 2018, the ADL recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, among them was a 105% increase in physical assaults against Jewish people, including the Pittsburgh massacre.

FBI data that showsthat hate crimes in Florida spiked by 51% in 2017 from the prior year, rising from 96 in 2016to 145 in 2017.In its annualHate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA)report, the FBI said that nationally hate crimes increased by 17 percent, with a 37 percent spike in crimes targeting Jews and Jewish institutions. In 2018, the number of hate crimes in the state remained steady at 141. The next report covering statistics in 2019 is due in November 2020.

Screen capture of the ADL's interactive Heat Map of anti-Semitic, extremist and white nationalist incidents in Florida 2016-2019(Photo: ADL)

Following successive year-on-year increases in reported incidents to the ADL since 2015, 2018 saw a small dip in incidents across Florida.

According to ADLs 2018 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, there were 76 incidents of anti-Semitism in Florida in 2018. "Vandalism and assaults remained at their 2017 levels, while reported incidents of non-criminal harassment dropped," according to the report.

The ADL's data is based off of self-reported incidents, which are in turn verified by the ADL before being added to their database.

Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida who watches politics locally, refrained from commenting on Brevard County specifically, but said there is at least a "modest uptick" in antisemitic language being used.

"Some of it I think comes from the top down ... there are certainly a number of critics of President Trump that believe he has said or done a number of things that are antisemitic or questionable in terms of support for Judaism," Jewett said, adding that "though he does have his supporters who point out he is a fervent supporter of Israel and that his Charlottesvillecomments were taken out of context."

Yet Jewett's perspective is that out of context or otherwise, Trump's words have "emboldened some anti-Jewish groups."

For him, this also fits more broadly into "acoarsening of the culture that weve seen over the past decade or so, particularly online people feel they can say anything,thats probablyfed into it as well," he said.

Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon is a watchdogreporter at FLORIDA TODAY.

Contact him at 321-355-8144, or asassoon@floridatoday.com. Twitter:@alemzs

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New York attack just the latest event worrying Brevard Jews that antisemitism on the rise - Florida Today

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