This Saturday, Hebrew Academy freshman Samantha Ebner went on her usual Shabbat walk with her father, but this time they took an unexpected detour.
Ebner’s father took her to see the two cars in their neighborhood that had been vandalized by swastikas the previous week. Ebner had heard about the swastikas because one of the cars belonged to the youth director of her shul, but this was the first time she was seeing them in person.
“My dad took me there to show me that these anti-Semitic actions occur in the world, and you have to be careful with everything, because it’s not just in movies in books–it’s in real life,” Ebner said.
Anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the Miami Beach area, with the most recent incident occurring over a week ago when cars were keyed with swastikas. The proximity to the school has made students nervous, but many say it only strengthens their Jewish identity.
“Hearing about all of the bomb threats and swastikas on cars makes me concerned,” Ebner said. “But also aware of what is happening and that I can’t let this get in the way of my Jewish identity.”
The man responsible for the swastikas was arrested on February 26, but other incidents remain unsolved.
Just this week and last week David Posnack Jewish Day School was evacuated due to bomb threats.
“I didn’t feel threatened,” said Posnack senior Ariel Tsarfati. “I felt more angry that these sick people were frightening the preschool, elementary, and high school children, just because they were Jewish and attending a Jewish day school.”
Because Hebrew Academy is an openly Jewish day school, it is seen as a potential target for bomb threats similar to the ones at Posnack. However, Hebrew Academy officials say the school is safe and prepared.
“I am going to put my trust in our security because I do believe in Kfir, and I have good reason to believe that Kfir is constantly monitoring and surveying the area outside the high school,” said Assistant Principal Rabbi Assaraf. “In the event that a person were to storm into the building– besides people taking action and immediately calling the police and whatnot– I would probably have to say within ten seconds that person would get a bullet in their head from Kfir based on the technology that I am aware of that exists on the other side of the street.”
Seven weeks ago the Miami Beach JCC was evacuated due to a bomb threat on the same day Jewish centers and schools across the nation experienced similar threats. Though none of the threats were carried out, Jewish leaders were still concerned.
“While bomb threats are not new, the sheer number and frequency is concerning,” said Tracey Grossman of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). “Currently we have a significant amount of incidents – not just the bomb threats – being reported, including individual threats, harassment, and the like. It might be that this is a sign of more anti-Semitic incidents, but it might also be that with the coverage of incidents in the media, more people are willing to come forward. Either way, each and every incident is a stark reminder that anti-Semitism is a current event for all of us.”
Although the official data for hate crimes in 2016 are still being gathered and have not yet been released, the statistics in 2015 show an astronomical rise against Jews. Out of 5,818 hate crimes, 21.4% (1244) were religious based. Of the 1,244 offenses, 53.4% (664) were anti-Semitic, roughly 55 anti-Jewish crimes per month. During the month after President Donald J. Trump’s inauguration, there were 108 incidents of swastikas painted with graffiti, a little less than double the monthly crime rate of 2015.
President Trump raised the issue during his address to congress last week.
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms,” Trump said.
Many Hebrew Academy students are aware of the recent rise of anti-Semitism. Although it is present in society, most students believe that they will not be directly affected.
“I would never expect it to happen to me but it could happen to anyone who is Jewish,” said freshman Abigail Gottlieb. “You go to shul, you go to a Jewish school, it’s labeled right away. People know that you’re jewish so it does seem unsafe.”
Hebrew Academy 11th grader Mikey Shakib came face to face with an anti-Semitic crime last year when his cousin’s car was vandalized. On Shabbat the vandals threw eggs on the car, drew a swastika, and smeared “Hamas” on the window with cream cheese. Shakib said the incident only served to reinforce his cousin’s Judaism.
“It strengthened his Jewish identity,” Shakib said. “He said that it made it him stronger. He wants to be more religious.”
Although it often serves to strengthen and unite the Jews, anti-Semitism has been going on throughout their existence, a fact that haunts the nation everyday.
“I think every Jewish school in the country is a target,” said Shmuel Kahn (12th). “These attacks have been happening forever and they’ll keep happening because we’re Jewish.”
By: Rina Reich (11th grade), with additional reporting by Tehila Moore (11th Grade), Ezrah Sultan (11th grade) and Serina Motola (12th grade)