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Jewish Leaders Say Anti-Semitism Around The Nation Is A Disturbing Trend


The anti-Semitic slogans at the weekend's rally in Charlottesville follow a recent spike in threats and vandalism targeting Jewish sites around the country. All of that has left the American Jewish community unsettled as it has not been in many years. NPR's Tovia Smith reports from Boston that many Jews are struggling with what this resurgent anti-Semitism means and what to do about it.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: They are words and scenes many American Jews thought were literally history.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD #1: (Chanting) Replace us. Jew will not replace us.

SMITH: White supremacists chanting in Charlottesville, Jews will not replace us, signs calling Jews Satan's children, and as one resident described it, parades of Nazis outside a packed synagogue toting guns and swastika flags. After some allegedly called for that synagogue to be burned down, services were canceled.

BILL HAMILTON: (Speaking Hebrew) Oh, merciful God.

SMITH: At an interfaith prayer service in Boston today, Rabbi Bill Hamilton was one of many expressing shock at what Jewish leaders call a troubling trend around the nation.

HAMILTON: There is a sense of horror, a sense of disbelief that this is happening here in our country.

SMITH: Just two days ago in Boston, a five-story glass Holocaust Memorial was shattered allegedly by a teen who threw a rock. The same monument was also shattered in June, the only two such incidents since the memorial was erected in 1995 by a group led by Holocaust survivor Steven Ross.

MICHAEL ROSS: Nationally it feels like we are under attack.

SMITH: His son, Michael Ross, says he's more rattled than he can remember feeling in his 45 years.

ROSS: I can tell you that there's a sense of, you know, well, I mean, am I safe here? You know, it's a question I've never had to ask myself. And I don't want to sound like, you know, hysterical, but there is a part of me that wonders just how far and how dark this can get because I think this is going to get worse before it gets better.

SMITH: Indeed, Bostonians are bracing for a rally planned for this weekend on Boston Common that organizers concede may draw some of the same people as Charlottesville, even though the two are not connected and Boston organizers denounce, quote, "the politics of supremacy and violence." A counterdemonstration is also planned, but the Anti-Defamation League's Robert Trestan is urging people who want to oppose white supremacists to protest from afar.

ROBERT TRESTAN: The main thing that they seek is attention and publicity to disseminate a message of hate. And so the best-case scenario is they come and they speak at the Common and there is nobody there to listen.

SMITH: Anti-Semitism is certainly not new in this country, from the American Nazi Party to daily discrimination in decades past in neighborhoods, jobs and universities. Brandeis Historian Jonathan Sarna says the current uptick may be most shocking to the younger generation of Jews who've enjoyed relatively broad acceptance. But Sarna says what's happening now may be less a rise in anti-Semitism specifically and more a decline in the political environment generally.

JONATHAN SARNA: Civility is down. And people who once, if they had those views, would have kept them to themselves now see nothing wrong with expressing those views in public.

SMITH: Jewish community leaders are among those denouncing President Trump for what they see as his tacit encouragement of those views. Vice President Pence today insisted the president has been clear and, quote, "eloquent" on the matter. He added he was praying that America will not allow the few to divide the many.

HAMILTON: Dear God...

SMITH: In Boston today, Rabbi Hamilton was praying, too.

HAMILTON: We are mindful that the force of justice is something that must be pursued with vehemence and vigilance.

SMITH: As Hamilton put it, now more than ever.

HAMILTON: And let us say amen.


SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHROMATICS SONG, "HANDS IN THE DARK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.

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