By Jenn Ross
Here at home and across the nation this Chanukah, the Jewish community came together to participate in the Shine A Light initiative, which called on us to stand up against antisemitism through events and online advocacy through shinealighton.com. Unfortunately, the need for this kind of outcry hit close to home, as our region was impacted by two egregious acts of vandalism just prior to this joyous holiday.
On November 23, stickers invoking the likeness of Adolf Hitler were found defacing the sign outside The Asbell Center for Jewish Life and on a poster for an anti-racist program featured on the Weiss Center for the Arts display board at Dickinson College. In Lancaster, the morning of November 27, it was discovered that the menorah we wrote about in the last edition of Community Review had been significantly damaged by vandals.
These actions are disheartening, but we must not let the vandals darken our spirits. My mood was uplifted by the lovely turnout of students and community members of all faiths at Dickinson College’s menorah lighting for the first night of Chanukah. Likewise, Lancaster’s menorah lighting attracted a crowd of hundreds of people. Volunteers were able to repair the menorah enough to light it, but the impact of the vandalism was apparent.
I was asked by a news reporter at Dickinson’s event if I viewed the defacement as a significant act since the stickers did not create permanent damage. My response was that it was - this was a hateful action intended to instill fear.
So how do we counter antisemitism? Alliances which build solidarity among our neighbors are a powerful force against all forms of hatred, proactively in prevention and reactively in helping victims to heal. Interfaith partnerships strengthen our communities and enable us to learn about our common values and respect our differences. Ann Van Dyke, a community activist, read a lovely speech at this year’s Interreligious Forum Thanksgiving Eve service entitled “A Candle Speaks.” Read it in the 12/17 edition of Community Review to learn about one similarity across faiths and hopefully brighten your day.
Enlightenment can be found through situational awareness training, an important tool in safeguarding our institutions. Across our community, our institutions and community members are safer because of access to briefings, trainings, and security information that we share through our regional Jewish community security distribution list.
Developing relationships with local and federal law enforcement agents and acquainting them with our facilities is critical. We deeply appreciate that Susquehanna Township police officers conduct frequent walkthroughs of our JCC and parking lot and respond quickly to concerns. I hope that all perpetrators involved in these recent incidents are caught and prosecuted to deter others.
Reporting acts of hate and vandalism to law enforcement and the ADL is crucial. Within institutions, “See Something, Say Something” is a simple, but impactful tool to safeguard people and property. If something seems “off,” it probably is, so communicate it to people at the institutions who can take action, or call 911 if there are imminent threats.
Another fundamental instrument in combating antisemitism is pride in our heritage – throughout the lifespan. Many Jews, particularly students on college campuses, often feel the need to blend in as a means of avoiding criticism and challenges. According to the 2021 ADL-Hillel Campus Antisemitism Survey, one-third of Jewish students experienced antisemitism on college campus in the last school year. Fortunately, Dickinson College has repeatedly supported its Jewish students at times of adversity. It is vital that all colleges and universities listen to their Jewish students, create a safe culture which encourages Jewish life and identity, and address acts of antisemitism whenever they occur.
Combatting antisemitism is a key goal of Federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils nationally, regionally, and of course, in Harrisburg. Please let me know if you encounter any issues in our community so we can address them. Additionally, if you ever encounter discrimination of any kind at the JCC, please let me know. Our JCC welcomes everyone and is intended to be a safe space. I can be reached at 717-236-9555 x3104 and firstname.lastname@example.org.