On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Jewish Alliance of Greater R.I. president Adam Greenman attributes the spike in antisemitic incidents to the political climate, social media, and celebrity comments

(This story appeared in Globe RI on September 14, 2023, 6:00 a.m.)

By Edward Fitzpatrick Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — This Friday marks the start of the Jewish New Year, and while many will be celebrating with apples and honey, there’s a reality that’s not so sweet. This past year, reports of antisemitism in Rhode Island shot up by 250 percent.

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Adam Greenman, president and CEO of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, talked about this troubling trend and what we can do about it.

Between July 2022 and July 2023, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island received reports of 44 antisemitic incidents, marking a 250 percent increase over the same period a year earlier, he said. While the numbers might in part reflect a greater willingness to report incidents, he said, “It’s certainly a stark increase.”

Greenman said that increase is driven by social media, statements by celebrities such as Kyrie Irving and the artist formerly known as Kanye West, and a political climate that has emboldened neo-Nazi groups.

“It certainly doesn’t help when you have politicians cozying up with neo-Nazis,” he said. “When you have folks who have called for the destruction of the Jewish people, when you’re dining with them, or when you’re giving voice to their concerns or giving them an audience, it emboldens them and it emboldens the people that follow them. And so I am really concerned with what we’re going to see over the next year-and-a-half as we get into another presidential election season.”

In August, the Globe reported that a New England neo-Nazi group called NSC-131 has targeted drag story hours, distributed Nazi literature, and chanted slurs at marginalized groups.

Greenman said that in February 2022 members of NSC-131 performed Nazi salutes, hoisted a flag with swastikas, and pounded on windows to interrupt a reading of “The Communist Manifesto” at the Red Ink Community Library in Providence.

“They have several members from Rhode Island that participate in their activities,” he said of NSC-131. “So even though they’re Massachusetts based, they really are trying to operate all over New England and New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.”

Greenman also responded to an Aug. 29 Globe story about how, according to a police report, the chief of the Warwick Water Division slapped a co-worker after saying he wanted to tell a “Nazi joke.”

“I was in disbelief that here in 2023, someone would make a joke like that,” he said. “It makes me wonder what the culture is in that organization and within that department that would allow for a joke like that to exist. And it’s why recently the Jewish Alliance has started to work with local businesses, with corporations, to really explore how do we do some form of Jewish education, how do we educate the workforce about the Jewish community among them?”

Greenman said the Jewish Alliance has a community security director who works with synagogues and Jewish agencies to make sure that have the training, cameras, and security they need.

“Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life for our community that we have to offer active shooter training, stop the bleed training, to congregants and to members of the community,” he said. “This weekend, when I go to Rosh Hashanah the services, there will be a police officer at Rosh Hashanah services, and that’s true for every synagogue across the state.”

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him @FitzProv.