Local Antisemitic Incidents Spark Concern and Outrage
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Local Antisemitic Incidents Spark Concern and Outrage

Jewish Atlanta leaders and residents gathered at Temple Sinai last week to discuss the rise in hatred targeting Jews across the country.

From left to right: Dov Wilker, regional director of AJC Atlanta; Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division; and Rabbi Brad Levenberg of Temple Sinai.
From left to right: Dov Wilker, regional director of AJC Atlanta; Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Southern Division; and Rabbi Brad Levenberg of Temple Sinai.

Swastikas deface a public crosswalk. School children photographed imitating the Nazi salute. Mailboxes and cars tagged with anti-Jewish “literature.”

These were some of the recent Atlanta-area incidents discussed by a panel of local Jewish leaders at Temple Sinai on Aug. 18. Experts said that the rise in antisemitic incidents that has members of Atlanta’s Jewish community shaken and concerned mirrors that of other cities across the country, as white nationalism and violent partisanship sweep the nation and related it to the broader history of antisemitism in Europe and the Middle East.

Around 150 community members gathered in the Cooper Chapel to nosh, dish and listen to the experts. Panel guests included Rabbi Andy Baker of the American Jewish Committee (AJC); Dov Wilker, regional director of AJC Atlanta; Allison Padilla-Goodman, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) Southern Division; Rabbi Brad Levenberg of Temple Sinai and moderator Rabbi Natan Trief.

Rabbi Andy Baker, American Jewish Committee (AJC) director of International Jewish Affairs, addresses the crowd during the Antisemitism in America meeting at Temple Sinai.

Rabbi Baker opened by sharing some personal history of combatting antisemitism on a global scale, having served with several European government commissions examining Holocaust-era history and ideologies.

“It’s instructive to look at what was going on in Europe, sadly, because we are seeing echoes of the same problems here in the United States,” he said, adding that the state of Israel has become demonized and its legitimacy has been questioned.

Trief asked the featured guests what they viewed as “the most concerning or relevant form of antisemitism today.”

“The part that really keeps me up at night is the normalization of antisemitism,” Padilla-Goodman said. “When we see it seeping into spaces that didn’t have antisemitic content before.”

Padilla-Goodman added that while she deals with antisemitism professionally in her role with the ADL, she has also been personally threatened.

“It’s a regular thing,” she said. “Rabbi Trief is right … we get it from the left, from the right, everywhere in the middle.”

Wilker said he focuses on the vitriolic rhetoric in modern American political discourse and sees a direct connection between hyperbolic speech and hyperviolent reactions.

“I think the rhetoric within the political discourse to me is what’s truly concerning,” he said. “I was speaking to a Democrat recently who didn’t understand why their criticism of Israel was antisemitic and I spoke to a Republican who didn’t understand why the way they used George Soros was antisemitic.”

Wilker stressed the importance of all peoples gaining more understanding, knowledge and appreciation for other cultures, including our own.

“We, ourselves, don’t know all about our own Jewish history. We, ourselves, don’t know the nuances associated with antisemitism,” he said.

Wilker also expressed concern over how the Jewish community calls out antisemitism and said that Jews should maintain perspective during those situations.

“Many people are saying things with ignorance and not malice,” he said. “And it’s important we recognize the difference.”

Rabbi Levenberg echoed Wilker’s sentiments of how knowledge is power, especially when combatting antisemitism.

“There are moments when we find ourselves in situations … where our first thought is ‘something seems like it’s not right,’” he said. “Perhaps it’s antisemitic.”

Levenberg continued by saying that if the situation involves someone with whom we have a relationship, it’s okay to pause the conversation and address the potential issue and perhaps have the person clarify their meaning.

Wilker also addressed the string of incidents that has plagued the Jewish community of Atlanta for the past year — on the streets, in neighborhoods and in the school system.

“I am dismayed by the number of antisemitic incidents we are seeing in metro Atlanta,” he said. “Most recently, it was swastikas on the Rainbow Crosswalk in Midtown. We should remain vigilant and vocal to ensure the community is aware of this horrific trend that impacts all Atlantans.”

Levenberg shared a parting message of strength and resilience with the community.

“To those who are nervous, angry or frustrated, I can say that I share those sentiments as well,” he said. “Certainly, the rise of antisemitism and its mainstreaming is disconcerting and quite troubling, which is why our community is so important. Among the many actions we can and should be taking to address the rise of antisemitism is to seize the opportunities present to be a part of a community, to be reminded that we are not alone, that others are feeling the same as we are.”

More than 150 community members gathered at Temple Sinai last week for a panel discussion on the growing trend of antisemitism in America, featuring local experts. // Photo Credit: Sasha Heller

Recent antisemitic incidents in Atlanta include:

(August 2022) A swastika is spray-painted on the iconic Rainbow Crosswalk, located downtown, at the intersection of 10th and Piedmont streets; the crosswalk has long stood as a symbol of inclusion, tolerance and understanding;

(July 2022) East Side Elementary School in East Cobb releases an image of a redesigned school logo that, to many community members, appears to resemble a variation on the Nazi eagle emblem. The school has since shelved the new logo and is currently reviewing the situation to decide the proper course of action;

(July 2022) Mailboxes at a dozen homes in Sandy Springs are stuffed with antisemitic flyers by a known anti-Jewish group, the Goyim Defense League;

(February 2022) An eighth-grade student at East Cobb Middle School reports that classmates were photographed wearing an armband bearing a swastika and demonstrating the Nazi salute. The photos were posted on social media and were eventually taken down;

(February 2022) Goyim Defense League distributes antisemitic flyers that appear on cars in the Lakewood Heights neighborhood of South Atlanta;

(Fall 2021) Swastikas and “Hail Hitler” were scrawled above urinals in school bathrooms in Pope and Lassiter High Schools in Cobb County during the Jewish High Holy Days.

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