Rise in Long Island antisemitism mirrors statewide trend

Bart Jones

April 26, 2022

Originally published in Newsday on April 26, 2022.

Antisemitic incidents on Long Island jumped by 23% last year, part of a 24% spike statewide that makes New York the nation's hot spot for offenses targeting Jewish communities, according to a report released Tuesday.

The report from the Anti-Defamation League found that 416 antisemitic incidents took place in the state in 2021, up from 336 in 2020. New York State accounted for 15% of all antisemitic incidents nationwide last year.

Long Island had 56 such incidents in 2020, compared with 69 last year, according to the ADL, which considers an incident to be swastika graffiti, antisemitic harassment or vandalism. Statewide, 2021 saw 183 incidents of harassment, 182 for vandalism, and 161 involving swastikas.

Jewish leaders on Long Island said they were alarmed by the report, with some saying it reflects a general increase in hatred and division in the country.

“Obviously it’s a horrible trend that we need to address,’ said Rabbi Beth Klafter, of Temple Beth David in Commack. “In many ways I think we are kind of like the canary in the coal mine. When antisemitism rises it’s because a lot of hatred is rising throughout the country.”

Others acknowledged the serious nature of the ADL report but cautioned against reading too much into the numbers for one key reason — most Long Islanders are accepting of Jewish as well as other ethnic and minority groups.

“It’s very alarming," said Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, head of the Orthodox Chabad Lubavitch movement on Long Island, when asked about the ADL findings, "and it gives us a new momentum to work on educating the people as to acceptance and living in a multicultural society."

The report also registered 51 antisemitic assaults in New York last year — the highest ever in the state — up from 12 in 2020 and 35 in 2019. Antisemitic assaults statewide account for more than half of the country's total, according to the report.

“The alarming uptick in antisemitic incidents in our state should be deeply concerning to all — Jews and those outside of the Jewish community,” said Scott Richman, regional director, ADL New York/New Jersey.

“The fact that these incidents included an unprecedented number of vicious assaults — frequently targeting visibly Jewish individuals on the streets of New York, including young children, is incredibly disturbing,” he said.

In 2021, ADL tabulated 2,717 antisemitic incidents across the United States. The figure represents a 34% increase from the 2,026 incidents recorded in 2020 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

"The country feels like it is being almost overrun by people full of hatred,” Klafter said.

Jewish and non-Jewish clergy need to do more to combat the antisemitism, she said, adding that public schools also need to redouble their efforts.

She contended that many are spending less time teaching about the Holocaust, and acceptance of Jewish people and other marginalized communities, because of the growing political divide in the region and the country.

Nassau County police said they had no reported antisemitic attacks in 2021 or so far this year, though that did not include incidents. Suffolk police did not immediately provide their statistics.

According to the ADL, Suffolk had 37 antisemitic incidents last year and Nassau had 32.

Long Island has been the site of some high-profile antisemitic acts in recent years, with swastikas painted on schools, playgrounds, and even on the grounds of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County.

It's also been witness to large gatherings focused on bringing disparate groups together. A January 2020 march against antisemitism drew 2,000 people in Nassau County.

But after that, bias incidents only continued.

In June 2021, Nassau police said at the time, antisemitic mail was sent to state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills).

Kaplan, who fled Iran as a child to escape potential violence against Jews, said the ADL report "is deeply disturbing but this is not something I am very surprised about.” 

“We need to stop this cycle, she said, "and I think education is one of the key factors how we could do this.”

Teldon said it's important to keep the numbers in perspective.

“With all the terrible things going on in the world, I don’t think that we should be alarmed as if our society is falling apart at the seams,” he said.

While 69 incidents in a year is too many, he said, it's a relatively small number among a population of nearly 3 million people.

In 44 years of living on Long Island, Teldon said he has experienced one antisemitic attack.

“Thank god we live in a country which is very much aware of this sickness and doing what it can in order to be able to fight it,” he said. “It’s just a part of human nature, that people are going to be hateful sometimes and as a result any minority is going to be a potential target.”

But “we live in a very, very special place here on Long Island …,” he said. “We shouldn’t allow the negative people to overweigh the tremendous good of so many people in our society and our communities.”