Our Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) advocates for our Jewish community and mobilizes Jews and their neighbors to ensure a strong and secure Jewish future. In doing this work, we build alliances within and outside the Jewish community, educate and galvanize the community on social justice issues, advocate for favorable public policy, and work to combat antisemitism and hate. Below, JCRC Chair Gary Starr describes the council's response to the recent rise in hate speech and actions, and issues a call for all of us to engage and amplify the council’s work. Gary works closely with Federation professional Alana Butler, who is Assistant Vice President of External Relations and Public Policy and the director of JCRC.
It can happen here. Just a couple of weeks ago, a Neo-Nazi hate group distributed flyers in a residential area of West Hartford. The flyers espoused white supremacy and sought to recruit new members. Hate is on the rise, as the ADL’s recent report confirmed. In just the past year, the number of incidents of antisemitism rose by 42%. Yes, 42%. There has also been an increase in incidents of hate targeting African Americans and Asian Americans.
But there are things being done and more that can be done. Under the leadership of Senator Richard Blumenthal, Congress has passed — and the president has signed — legislation that makes funds available to collect data on hate crimes so that when speech leads to action, the police are prepared. The Connecticut State Police have also established a separate unit that will collect data on hate.
Federation's Jewish Community Relations Council is also fighting hate. We have been reaching out and engaging with other faith communities and government officials to build bridges of understanding and take collective action. Hate crimes send a message of exclusion to the targeted group. It’s critical that leaders and diverse faith communities stand together, with messages of inclusion, whenever anyone is targeted.
Our JCRC, after a thoughtful discussion, adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism. This definition goes beyond saying, “I know it when I see it.” It provides a working definition that will lead to careful analysis of an incident so that a deeper look at the facts will make a difference in deciding whether, and when, an event is antisemitic. Certainly, there are clear signs of what constitutes antisemitism — spraying swastikas on synagogue walls, attacking an individual wearing a kippa, or yelling antisemitic epithets. There are also, however, subtler expressions — and it’s important for everyone to grasp such distinctions. JCRC has been meeting with municipal leaders and other nonprofits to educate, share concerns, and motivate effective responses.
This cannot be the work of just a few: We need volunteers who are willing to have meaningful discussions with friends and neighbors. This week’s Torah portion, Emor, describes sacrifices to be brought to the Temple for various celebrations and infractions. While we no longer have a place for such rituals, we can instead improve our lives and our world through communal engagement and tikkun olam.
Your participation is essential. The best way to address hate is to understand what it is; help others see it for what it is; report it to the police, Federation, and the ADL; stand with others who are confronting hate; and lobby for laws that address hate and antisemitism. If you are interested in stepping forward to help, please contact Alana Butler.