Antisemitism on the Rise

A police car sits outside the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria on Sunday, June 25 offering protection during their event “Antisemitism on the Rise. What Are We Doing About It?”

Judith Fogel, Sisterhood Programming VP and chair of this event, says the congregation used to have security services for the holidays but after the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October, 2018, they have security services every week. 

The idea for this topic was spurred by the disturbing uptick in violence against Jews in the United States. From 2021-2022 in Virginia there was a greater than 70 percent increase in antisemitic incidents. “It’s the worst it’s been since the Holocaust.” Fogel is particularly sensitive to this because both of her parents were survivors of Nazi death camps — “the worst trauma of mankind.”

Fogel says there has been an erosion of the generations. “Right after the Holocaust there was some protection but that generation is dying out. There is an uptick in Germany, too … In addition, social media makes the spread of Semitic comments easy.”

The Sunday program featured Vicki Fishman and Guila Franklin Siegel of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) and Rabbi Eric Fusfield, Legislative Director for B’nai Brith International and a member of the Virginia Governor’s Commission to Combat Antisemitism. Fishman is a member the task force on antisemitism created by Attorney General Jason Miyares.

Fusfield focused on the International angle. “It is coming from both the right and the left.”

Siegel discussed her work to sensitize schools to antisemitism — who Jews are and how they have contributed. “We’re more than just a religion; we’re a civilization,” Fogel says. Siegel also works to establish school based programs to help Jewish youth feel safe in the schools and works with the superintendents to make them aware of what is being experienced by Jewish students in schools.

Siegel was a strong advocate at the state level for adoption of an official definition of antisemitism. Virginia’s Jewish communities issued a statement when the bill was signed on May 8, “With today’s ceremonial bill signing, Virginia joins 29 other states and the District of Columbia in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of Antisemitism as an educational tool to identify and combat antisemitism.”

Fogel said this is especially important with what is going on now on college campuses. “As Jews we are deeply passionate about social justice but some Jewish students go to college and are made to feel not welcome. They don’t understand it, and it is a real blow to the families who raised them.“

Lisa Shimberg and Liz Kulick, who attended the event, come with different perspectives and experiences. Kulick grew up in Buffalo New York in an area with few Jewish people around. “Parents wouldn’t let their kids play with us. I didn’t understand why my religion made any difference. … Something about it seemed wrong.” 

Shimberg was raised in New York in a mostly Jewish neighborhood and didn’t face any of these issues growing up. It wasn’t until she got into physical therapy school as an adult in the first class of the program that it hit when someone made a comment about “how Jewish doctors are.” Now Shimberg is a member of Agudas and Kulick considers herself mostly a Buddhist|. But both Shimberg and Kulick agree on the importance of today’s program and need to raise awareness on the rising incidents of antisemitism.