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Commentary: Antisemitism threatens Rhode Island’s founding ideals and principles. We must take it seriously.

Antisemitism threatens Rhode Island’s founding ideals and principles. We must take it seriously.
Everyone in our state has a role to play in fighting antisemitism and hatred in all forms, writes Adam Greenman, president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island
Published in Boston Globe Rhode Island
August 1, 2022

Last week, long before a Tiverton restaurant posted an appalling antisemitic meme to its Facebook page, I was in Krakow, Poland, meeting with Ukrainian refugees, and visiting organizations supporting their needs like the Jewish Community Center. The Auschwitz concentration camp stands just 60 miles from the Krakow JCC. It is where more than a million people, mostly Jews, were executed during the Holocaust. It is where Anne Frank and her family were sent after being discovered in Amsterdam.

In Warsaw, we saw memorial after memorial of those Jews who were concentrated in the Warsaw Ghetto, and who perished in the Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Seeing the few remaining walls of the ghetto, hearing how glass and barbed wire were placed on top of the tall brick so that Jews could not escape, was a reminder of the brutality Jews and others faced at the hands of the Nazis. It is also a reminder that the brutality was not the beginning of antisemitic treatment in Europe. The Holocaust did not begin with the extermination of Jews. It began with prejudice. It began with mistreatment. And it began because too many good people looked the other way as the Nazis enacted laws institutionalizing harsh treatment of Jews and other minority groups.

The Jewish people have a saying about the Holocaust. Never forget. As Rhode Islanders, we must never forget what happened in World War II, and we must never allow history to repeat itself. We must learn the lessons from the Holocaust and avoid looking the other way when any minority group is targeted. Sadly, and alarmingly, I worry we are forgetting these lessons.

Over the last several years, the number of antisemitic incidents in Rhode Island has risen steadily, and in the last few months, incidents are even more frequent. It was good to see the public outcry surrounding the restaurant’s post, and good to see that the restaurant did apologize. However, it is time for all of us to take seriously the threat of antisemitism to our state’s founding ideals and principles, and it is time for all of us to act against this intolerance.

Over the last several months, Rhode Island has seen neo-Nazis in Providence. We have seen racist and antisemitic leafleting by the same white nationalist organization in East Providence and Cranston. We have seen stickers placed throughout our state with antisemitic language. And we have heard from more and more Jewish community members sharing stories of verbal abuse and harassment directed at them because they are Jewish.

Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in the United States in 2021, with a total of 2,717 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to the Anti-Defamation League. This represents the highest number of incidents on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979 — an average of more than seven incidents per day and a 34 percent increase year over year.

These incidents no longer represent the work of isolated bad actors. They are part of an alarming pattern, one that we must reverse, especially in Rhode Island. Our state was founded on the principle of religious freedom. The country’s oldest synagogue, Touro Synagogue, stands in Newport, and Rhode Island has always been a place where the Jewish community has not only been able to survive, but thrive. We can no longer be silent about this.

Everyone in our state has a role to play in fighting antisemitism and hatred in all forms. First, people can educate themselves about the long history of antisemitism and the Holocaust. The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island has a wealth of resources to help those looking for information and the Sandra Bornstein Holocaust Education Center is an invaluable resource for information about the Holocaust. Education is only a first step, however. Share what you learn with others, through social media and through conversations with family and friends. You can also share posts from the Jewish community on your social media to further the education of others.

Finally, like so many did last week, stand up and speak out against antisemitism when you see it. We must make clear that our state does not tolerate antisemitism in any form. And if you see an incident, report it. In Rhode Island, you can report an incident to the Jewish Alliance.

In George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, he said “Everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” We all must work together to make sure that 232 years later, Rhode Islanders continue to live up to those ideals.

Adam Greenman is the president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.

Commentary: Antisemitism threatens Rhode Island’s founding ideals and principles. We must take it seriously.

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