Antisemitic incidents remain high in New Jersey and across the country, according to a report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The organization reports that even though documented antisemitic incidents declined by 14% in 2020, 2020 was still the third highest year for antisemitic incidents statewide and nationally.
In taking a stand against antisemitic incidents and antisemitism, residents, children and families throughout Mercer County and the greater Princeton area gathered together in Princeton’s Hinds Plaza to raise awareness and address the problem at a recent public rally on June 17.
“Princeton is where the Jewish community is centered around, not just in Princeton but the greater Mercer County. That was the main reason we chose Princeton as the location for the rally,” said Mark Merkovitz, executive director of The Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks. “What we had been seeing is the children are having the most challenging times in the schools in the Princeton area. We wanted to show them and the greater community we are here for them.”
When focusing on New Jersey the ADL reported that in 2020 there were 295 antisemitic incidents documented across the state. The top five counties with documented incidents that year included Middlesex (34), Monmouth (32) and Mercer (27).
“The reality is the numbers are the numbers, but when it is on an individual basis it can be 100% of the time when it is happening to you,” Merkovitz added. “We look at every individual incident as an important incident that we have to deal with, because those scars that happen to children and even adults stay with them for a long time.”
The rally is seen as a start for organizers as they plan to follow up with advocacy that would work with municipalities, schools, school districts and state officials. Those efforts would also involve education to support adults and children on how to handle antisemitic incidents in addition to making people feel that they are not in it alone, they claimed.
Along with raising awareness, a call for action had been made by speakers and attendees during the evening event. Speakers featured included rabbis, heads of local organizations and commissions, state officials such as State Senator Linda Greenstein (D-Mercer, Middlesex) and Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Princeton Mayor Mark Freda and local students impacted by antisemitic incidents and actions.
“Antisemitism is not a Jewish issue,” said Dave Davis, pastor of Nassau Presbyterian and one of the rally speakers.
Attendees had ranged in age from young children to older adults as Hinds Plaza had filled with more than 200 people.
“I think it is important to stand up for what we think is right and the terrible social injustices that are happening,” said Zoe Nuland, a student at Princeton Middle School. “I think that if there are more incidents and discrimination happening it is important that we say what is going on and we need to acknowledge it.”
Zoe, who is Jewish, said even though personally she has not experienced anything recently or in 2020, she does know people who have.
“The rally is a great idea to help people see that there are more people like you, who share the same ideas as you, and do not want to see this continue to happen,” Zoe said. “It is more of a feeling that you are not in this alone, we are all here together, and I think that is an important takeaway out of this.”
Another student, Noah Zacks, who is also from Princeton Middle School, said she wants people after the rally to start focusing on issues not receiving much attention such as antisemitism.
“We don’t like the hate we are receiving and being discriminated against,” she said. “I’m hopeful that antisemitism and antisemitic incidents can decline. I think protests like these are really helpful in trying to raise awareness for others about what is really going on right now and try to stop it.”
The rally and ADL spotlighted antisemitic incidents that involved social media posts or interactions, vandalism, propaganda and Zoombombing (intentional disruption of a video-conference call).
“I’m very concerned. Whether it is through Zoombombing, antisemitic incidents, posts on social media and Facebook,” said Rabbi Benjamin Adler, Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville. “I have seen more and more this past year. As the speakers mentioned there has also been violence the community has experienced in recent years, whether it was the shooting in Pittsburgh at Tree of Life Synagogue, or California, and here in New Jersey at JC Kosher supermarket in Jersey City.”
According to data from the ADL, most of the documented incidents in Mercer County for 2020 had been the distribution of White supremacist propaganda and Zoombombing.
“To be specific, our synagogue has experienced it. On our Facebook page there was an antisemitic post made,” Adler said. “There was also an antisemitic Zoombombing event that had also occurred. We directly at our congregation have seen it. It is out there and widespread.”
He added that the rally gives strength to the community to come together.
“Realize we are one people, we have allies with non-Jews, we have people that are part of our community and not part of our community,” Adler said. “Whether you are orthodox or conservative, we are all one people. I hope the young people come out of this event hopeful.”