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Antisemitism on the Rise Nationally and in District 219

Mar 2, 2023

The Illinois State Police as well as other law enforcement groups issued a warning that Neo-Nazi and antisemitic groups were posing a “National Day of Hate,” encouraging people to participate in hateful or violent actions against the Jewish community on Feb. 25. The Chicago Police Department and Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker sent out messages to the public encouraging residents to have a “heightened awareness” over the weekend.

Antisemitism is up 34% nationally, and more specifically, incidents in K-12 schools have increased 106% since 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League. “Semitic” is a term that refers to languages of Middle Eastern origin that share some linguistic similarities, but “antisemitism” refers specifically to the hostility or prejudice against Jewish people.

According to the Skokie Police Department (SPD), 37 reported incidents involving a bias of hate occurred during the calendar year of 2022. One of these 37 was legally considered a hate crime. A hate crime, according to the Hate Crime Awareness and Education document from the SPD is a “predicate or ‘qualifying’ criminal offense that is motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against the actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, physical and/or mental disability or national origin of the victim.”

SPD Chief of Police Brian Baker summarized incidents reported in the community during 2022.

“In that one [hate crime], a 10-15-year-old male battered a juvenile at an entertainment venue while speaking antisemitic language. The other 36 are mostly comprised of arguments between individuals where bias-based offensive language is used,” Baker said. “Skokie’s Jewish history and heritage are very well known. Because of that, Skokie on occasion over the years has been sought out by those that hold antisemitic views. Neo-Nazis protested the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum in 2009. In May of 2021, a window of a synagogue was deliberately broken by a suspect that was possessing a visible Palestinian flag. These are examples of infrequent, yet very significant incidents, that have occurred over the years. We also have experienced more frequent incidents such as the dissemination of antisemitic literature onto residents’ driveways, harassing phone calls to Jewish locations, antisemitic graffiti, and some offensive language to individuals.”

Students at Niles West have also noticed an increase in antisemitism in recent years.

According to Niles West senior and president of Israeli club Brayden Kleeberg, “[Antisemitism has] been up since COVID. And then especially now with Kanye [West] saying everything he’s said and having such a large influence, it’s just so abundant and it’s not something people ever really talked about.” 

Over winter break, the D219 community dealt with an act of antisemitic hate speech, in which Hebrew teacher and Niles North Israeli Club sponsor Anna Raiber’s Facebook account was hacked. Students and teachers alike reacted to the event.

“I just didn’t think that there would be anybody who would do that or someone who would at least take their thoughts to that measure. [I was] just kind of disappointed, because I found out days after it happened,” Kleeberg said.

Others students had different opinions on the matter.

“I was both shocked and also not shocked because I feel like there’s been a lot of small incidents that have happened, like small incidents of antisemitism, and I feel like while it was so shocking and so unfair that it happened, it was almost as if the amount of small incidents was kind of preparing itself for this. It’s just becoming a part of normalcy which is kind of upsetting,” Niles North sophomore Eva Spiro said.

Spiro shared other experiences of antisemitism witnessed at Niles North.

Well I think like as growing up as a Jew, we always learned like, ‘in the course of your life there will be incidents.’ I didn’t realize it was going to happen so soon but I think, you know, there were swastikas in the bathroom. There’s constantly, you know you go to a public bathroom and there’s ‘Heil Hitlers’ and there’s swastikas and there’s a lot of disgusting, disgusting language in German. And there [were] some really, really not nice to say comments on North’s Israeli club’s on our Instagram,” Spiro said. 

One Jewish student has reacted to antisemitism by making their Jewish identity less obvious.

I have a Jewish necklace and I keep it kind of tucked in. I just wear it because, well I’m Jewish, and I want to feel that way I guess, my grandpa gave it to me, but some people have in the past said some things to me just because of it and I just don’t want to cause anything. It’s not that I’m like super afraid to have it out it’s just I kind of subconsciously keep it hidden. I know very antisemitic things have happened to people and to the [Niles West] Israeli club in the past – like we’ve received bad comments on Instagram, we’ve had our posters [have] horrible things written on them, swastikas in the bathrooms. It seems like it’s normal I guess but it should never be a normal thing to happen,” Niles West junior Max Spector said. 

While there are many underlying reasons for the increase in antisemitism, students believe one of the main reasons is a lack of education and have even proposed ideas for the school to help with this issue.

The Holocaust Museum is right around here and I think that would be really cool if they took everyone in U.S. History on a field trip there because I think people need to be more educated about everything that happened in the Holocaust. We haven’t gotten to the part in our U.S. history class where they’re teaching about the Holocaust, so a lot of assumptions are being made,” Spector said. 

Niles West junior Josh Meyer agreed.

I think that can encourage a discussion about it, and what I think might be missing from this is more discussion between people, between teachers, between different parties. Especially when, you know, we have big signs outside the school that says ‘hate has no home here,’ but then you have all these things in contrast with that,” Meyer said.

Spiro proposed additional ways the District could educate students about the Jewish community.

There are so many cultures in the district, which is such a wonderful thing. But it’s just so hard to please everybody, you know, like there are so many things to take into consideration. And I think because of that [the administration has] come to like just sending emails out, which is really kind of disappointing. So I feel like sending emails is a start, but bringing people in to talk to everybody – they’ve done that with a lot of like – Black Student Union and a lot of different people – so I think doing that for the Jewish community would also be really helpful. Our rabbi said they could try to get a Holocaust survivor in which would be really, really amazing and getting somebody to speak from Stand With Us which is an anti antisemitic [organization], you know. So I think that’s a step I want to see,” Spiro said. 

Anna Raiber, who sponsors Israeli club, encourages students to visit the club if they’re interested in educating themselves about Jewish culture and fighting antisemitism.

This is my goal as a teacher and as a sponsor for Israeli club. I really want as many people as possible, especially students, to come and see it. It’s a beautiful place, a welcoming place, for everyone,” Raiber said. 

As with Israeli club, Hebrew language classes are open to all students. The classes are held at Niles North, so Niles West students are shuttled to and from Niles North to attend the class. Students who wish to add the course to their schedules must meet with their counselors and design schedules with time for transportation to and from North.

“I think it should be very important for people to learn about each and every student culture, everyone should be proud about their culture and their beliefs. It is a challenge, but it’s beautiful, and this is what I would like for everyone in the district to be. Like to understand each other’s cultures and to just enjoy it, learn it, like it,” Raiber said. 

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