Video Source: Advocate Channel
(CNN) — Jon Rettinger has not let his children wear their yarmulkes in public this week, afraid they could be targeted for being Jewish.
The father of three in Orange County, California, said he has tried to keep his children, ages 10, seven and four, from watching or reading news, but they are still coming home from school with questions about the conflict in Israel and Gaza.
One of them has asked if they were going to be kidnapped, Rettinger said.
“It’s horrible for any family to have to explain to children that people hate them because of who they are,” Rettinger said. “And to have to kiss your kids goodbye every day with worries.”
Like Rettinger, many Jewish people in the United States have become more vigilant and concerned about their safety as deadly fighting intensifies between Israel and Hamas, a Palestinian militant group.
The ongoing crisis follows a large-scale assault carried out by Hamas last weekend that killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and wounded thousands. Israel responded with military airstrikes that have killed at least 1,500 Palestinians in Gaza, including 500 children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Oren Segal, vice president for the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said it’s a “very painful time” for Jewish people in the US, who were already facing an increase in hate crimes, and now worry for relatives or friends in Israel.
“The level of hatred that we already were dealing with on the ground, combined with what people are seeing online, just kind of all came together at the worst moment - perhaps, one of the worst moments in Israeli history,” Segal said.
In recent years, there has been a rising number of anti-Semitic speech and attacks in the US. While incidents in the US can’t be solely attributed to a group or ideology, there have been increased coordinated efforts by known White supremacist groups to spread anti-Semitic propaganda, according to a March audit of antisemitism by the ADL.
Anti-Semitic incidents in the US tracked by the ADL reached their highest level in 2022 with nearly 3,700 reported cases. The incidents include assault, vandalism, and harassment of Jewish people or those perceived to be Jewish, the organization said.
The group has tracked anti-Semitic incidents since 1979 based on information provided by victims, law enforcement, local media and community leaders.
This year, the ADL said there have been numerous swatting incidents and bomb threats targeting places of worship over consecutive weekends, widespread online harassment, and an increase of anti-Semitic speech in the public comment portion of city council, county board and other local government meetings.
In some instances, the remarks directly target local officials who are Jewish, the organization said.
“All that was the foundation in which many in the Jewish community were already feeling unsettled,” Segal said.
Boosting security measures
Law enforcement across the country have increased security around institutions at the center of Jewish life, like synagogues and schools.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that law enforcement will “ramp up” security amid a generic call from a former Hamas leader for protesters to stage demonstrations Friday.
The messaging is consistent with previous Hamas messages calling for demonstrations. There was not a specific call for violence, beyond a general call to show anger.
The Jewish Security Alliance of New York-New Jersey, a coalition of nine groups serving the Jewish community, has advised institutions to remain open but encouraged them to follow several security measures, including limiting building access, conducting sweeps of the building’s perimeter and ensuring all cameras are on and properly recording.
Segal noted he is concerned about a potential surge in anti-Semitic incidents in the US, despite President Joe Biden and other leaders showing their support for the Jewish community.
“What we know is that whenever there’s a conflict [in Israel], the risks here go up,” Segal said.
Rettinger said the private Jewish school his children attend sent letters to parents this week detailing additional security measures and advised parents to remove social media apps from their children’s phones to prevent them from viewing graphic images of war.
While he was reluctant to send his children to school on Friday, Rettinger said he refuses to live in fear.
“It’s scary,” he said. “But we can’t live a fearful life.”
Michael Igel, chairman of the Florida Holocaust Museum, said he is intensifying security measures around the museum to keep his staff and patrons safe.
Igel, who is the grandson of Holocaust survivors, said he never imagined he would see another massacre of Jewish people in his lifetime. But he’s calling on the Jewish community to unite. Allies, he said, can support them by taking a stand against the massacre.
“I can’t underscore how difficult and painful it is,” Igel said. “These are innocent people being murdered in their homes.”
But Igel also had a message for the Jewish community in the US.
“Continue to be careful, but please don’t hide,” he said.
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