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As Antisemitic Attacks Hit Record High, Chicago Jewish Groups Fight Back By Empowering Communities

Chicago saw 47 reported incidents of anti-Jewish hate last year, compared to 37 in 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

FREE Synagogues was the target of anti-Jewish graffiti in West Ridge.
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CHICAGO — With antisemitic incidents at an all-time high in the Midwest, Jewish advocates and Chicago city leaders are ramping up efforts to make sure communities are safe.

There was a 44 percent increase in reported antisemitic acts in the Midwest last year, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League published last week. The group tracks antisemitic hate speech, vandalism, harassment, assaults and right-wing propaganda.

The league recorded 298 incidents for the region — the highest number since the they began tracking in 1979. Verbal and digital harassment and antisemitic vandalism increased, while assaults decreased.

Chicago specifically saw an increase, with 47 reported incidents last year compared to 37 in 2021, according to the group’s H.E.A.T. map, which shows specific events of hate, extremism, antisemitism and terrorism.

In 2022, eight vandalism or harassment incidents were reported in Chicago schools, including swastikas repeatedly drawn in an Edgebrook middle school and a Nazi-like costume worn by a student at Jones College Prep’s Halloween parade that led to the principal’s firing.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Students, teachers and families participate in Edgebrook Elementary’s annual luminary walk on Dec. 20, 2022. The event was also a peace walk this year to unite the school community and denounce recent antisemitic incidents and hate speech that rattled some parents and teachers.

Nazi vandalism at Northwest Side restaurants and businesses, and a string of antisemitic vandalism on Jewish businesses and synagogues in West Ridge, were also included in the reported attacks, as well as an assault on a Jewish man in West Ridge.

Illinois saw a 128 percent jump in incidents, counting 121 compared to 53 last year.

The Midwest jump mirrors national antisemitic hate trends: In the United States, there were 3,697 incidents reported in 2022, an increase of 36 percent, according to the report.

David Goldenberg, the Midwest regional director at the Anti-Defamation League, said the rise in hate toward Jewish communities is a wake-up call.

“We cannot pretend that [the problem] does not exist,” Goldenberg said. “What we know is that data informs decision-making and policy making processes. We are investing resources in educating communities in antisemitism.”

The league has rolled out free educational programs for schools and corporate offices that teach people about ways they can combat hate crimes and speech, Goldenberg said.

In the past school year, more than 90 Chicago public schools and some in the suburbs signed up for the program, No Place For Hate, which works with more than 1,800 schools nationwide to address hate incidents on campus and teach students and teachers about acceptance and safety, Goldenberg said.

While news of a spike in antisemitic hate can galvanize communities, it can also embolden right-wing hate groups, Goldenberg said. It’s important to “be very loud” and spread awareness around the issue, he said.

“What we are also seeing is as these incidents increase is more people speaking out saying, ‘Not in my community’ and showing allyship,” he said. 

MAGEN Chicago, a nonprofit focused on keeping Jewish communities safe, offers training, education and security awareness, organizes self-defense, first responder skills and safety programs with the help of the police.

The group recently held a safety training with officers from the 24th District’s Place of Worship Advisory Team to be prepared for the potential “Day Of Hate against Jewish communities.

While no incidents took place last month, it was good practice should something occur in the future, said Chiam Naiditch, president of the organization.

Earlier this month, its staff worked with a retired SWAT instructor to continue training in threat assessment and community protection, Naiditch said.

“You go in the car and first thing you do is you lock the doors,” Naiditch said as simple takeaways. “You’re outside taking out the garbage, you look around … just being aware and familiar with your surroundings. That’s important to be successful, to be safe.”

Credit: Alex Hernandez / Block Club Chicago
Books focused on the Holocaust and anti-racism near the door where the hate speech was found.

Naiditch said he is “not surprised” by the spike in antisemitic incidents in the Chicago area but encouraged people to feel empowered to stand up against hate.

Unplugging from headphones and smartphones can aid in boosting people’s situational awareness, as well as trying MAGEN’s free workshops and safety classes, he said.

“We don’t want people to live in fear. … You turn on the TV and that’s enough,” Naiditch said. “If anything, we are trying to get people to dispel that fear.”

Last week, Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker awarded $20 million in grants to 116 religious, health care and cultural institutions across the state deemed at risk of terrorism to help boost their security and public safety. Several grants are going to synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish organizations in Chicago.

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