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Business Casual: Not In My Backyard

 

News of vandals’ attacks on members of the Congregation Beth Jacob in DeKalb County a few weeks ago prompted equal parts anger and sadness – and, for me, something more.

It seems a truckload of individuals had been targeting those at the synagogue, mostly on Friday nights, the Jewish Sabbath, throwing eggs at families walking through the neighborhood, leaving bagels in the yards of synagogue members (presumably this fits some two-digit-IQ jerk’s idea of clever) and damaging cars left in the parking lot at the synagogue.

What kind of people do things like that? Sadly, I guess I know the answer. But why?  Can’t we get past this stuff?

I am taking this personally because the synagogue is in my neighborhood, and many of my neighbors walk there regularly.

As naïve as it sounds, I was surprised that this is happening in such an easygoing and diverse area.

Whether this series of incidents is the work of dimwitted pranksters or represents something more sinister has not yet been determined.

I watched a Channel 2 interview with Beth Jacob Rabbi Ilan Feldman, who answered questions calmly but with concern. He obviously doesn’t want to jump to conclusions – there is the possibility that these are random acts of vandalism motivated by stupidity rather than hate. So he was not downplaying, but not over-emphasizing, either.

The DeKalb police are taking the incidents seriously, but have not described them as hate crimes. Sadly, that is where the mind goes, given the locale and circumstances. Someone used the word “mischief” to describe the bagel-throwing, but that’s much too benign a word to describe harming people on their way to a house of worship.

The national Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a group formed in 1913 to fight anti-Semitism, last fall released results of a survey that found anti-Semitic attitudes have increased and indicated that 15 percent of Americans, or nearly 35 million adults, “hold deeply anti-Semitic views, an increase of 3 percent” from a similar poll conducted in 2009.

The study found “age-old myths about Jews and money and Jewish power in business endure.”

This is likely not surprising to those who have been on the receiving end of such bigotry, but it’s easy for others of us to get too comfortable in the bubble we populate and share with like-minded friends and colleagues.

The most educated Americans are largely free of prejudicial views, the ADL says. “Less educated Americans are more likely to hold anti-Semitic views.”

It’s sad that ignorant people choose to blame their tough circumstances or hard luck on other ethnic groups, but not unprecedented. If there is comfort to be taken, it is that ignorance is curable – not always an easy process, but one that can be made to work, whether it is the ADL’s “No Place For Hate” campaign or anti-bullying programs that are in place in schools.

The FBI keeps statistics on hate crimes, and they are sobering. For 2010, they indicate that law enforcement agencies reported 6,624 incidents that involved 7,690 offenses and 6,001 offenders. Of these “single-bias” incidents, 47.3 percent were racially motivated and 20 percent motivated by religious bias.

Among the crimes prompted by religious bias, 65.4 percent were anti-Jewish and 13.2 percent were anti-Islamic. Of all the hate crimes reported, 30.1 percent involved damage or vandalism and 29 percent involved intimidation; 33.3 percent involved some form of assault.

Among the states, Georgia has weak hate crime laws, basically only criminalizing vandalism against property; the state’s laws do not protect individuals targeted because of their race, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

Hate is hate, whether it is legally “criminal mischief” or a full-blown felony. It is born of ignorance and fed by fear. That there are groups and individuals working to educate people and help eliminate bias and bigotry is hopeful.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate it if the bagel-throwers and the hatemongers and the criminally ignorant would stay out of my neighborhood.

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