Antisemitism: What we did last summer. 

By Matt Golden

Jewish Community Relations Council director Matt Golden

My family and I took a vacation to Maine a week or so ago, right before my children’s school year started.   This is not, however, a vacation story.   This is a story about a peculiar form of hate and its uncomfortable presence in our community over the last couple of weeks.  This is a story about what happened.   

Just as my family left Louisville, members of a Kentucky chapter of the KKK distributed fliers in bedroom communities around our sister city, Lexington, in a near-simultaneous action across many neighborhoods.  In an unrelated incident, elected officials in Frankfort received a barrage of antisemitic letters urging action against Jews.     

Our arrival in Maine was marred by widely reported antisemitic vandalism in the capital, Augusta, followed by the announcement that a neo-Nazi training camp was being established “upstate.”   Later in the week, we learned that a neo-Nazi rally was being held in Augusta on the day of our departure.  

Against this local backdrop, another neo-Nazi was arrested and federally charged for targeting jurors and the Jewish community during the trial of the murderer of 11 Jewish people in a Pittsburgh synagogue.  The defendant’s “supporter” attempted to use threats against the jurors and victims to obstruct the trial and will now face a trial of his own.      

When we arrived home, our community was confronted by more news of antisemitism: A member of Lexington’s Jewish clergy[1] received disturbing and threatening antisemitic text messages, resulting in the arrest of the perpetrator.  The Lexington law enforcement officials we spoke to let us know that additional charges were coming against a separate hate-motivated defendant for crimes against yet another victim.  

Then, last week, one of our local synagogues was the victim of a “swatting” attack.  Swatting is the deliberate and false reporting of an emergency in order to compel an armed law enforcement response, usually the SWAT team.   Louisville joined more than 50 other Jewish institutions across the country that were targets of similar “swatting” attacks during the same period. Said again: A criminal actor or actors targeted 50 Jewish institutions from coast to coast in a coordinated attack meant to terrorize Jews.   

I want to stress that I left for vacation only a couple of weeks ago.    

Antisemitism is on the rise in our country, as statistics well reveal.  The Anti-Defamation League reports that despite making up only 2% of the population, Jews are the targets of more than two-thirds of the religiously motivated hate crimes in this nation.  The American Jewish Committee, in a separate report, provides that more than a quarter of American Jews have been the specific target of an antisemitic incident (https://www.ajc.org/AntisemitismReport2022) 

If you are online, as many of our people are, those statistics are even more troubling.  Thirty-six percent of American Jews reported experiencing antisemitic harassment online, according to the ADL. And America isn’t alone. Germany saw a 700 percent increase in online antisemitic posts during 2021, France no less than 1,300 percent.   To quote Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, the United States Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Antisemitism, “[a]ntisemitism is everywhere. It’s in the streets and it’s in the Tweets.” 

Yet, when terrible things happen, good people rise.  Our Jewish Louisville Community Newspaper previously reported to you about the White House Plan to Combat Antisemitism that was announced in May.  National Jewish organizations like the ADL and AJC will work with their own local partners, and with our elected officials, to continue combatting this old hate.   Through education, action and coalition building, we can counter antisemitism in our time.   

But I also want to focus on our local response.   Thanks to our newly appointed Regional Security Advisor, Stuart Lowrey, local and federal law enforcement and others, we became aware of these incidents quickly, and were able to connect with one another in response.   Those incidents were then tracked, and our community was advised in a responsible and coherent way.  Moreover, several best practices came out of these incidents that will be further refined over the next several months with the help of our RSA, the Secure Community Network and community partners here locally and across our state.  They are: 

  • If you see something, say something.  Make sure that if there is any threat or perceived threat, call law enforcement at 911, and call our Regional Security Advisor at 844-SCN-DESK (844-726-3375) or email at slowrey@jewishlouisville.org 
  • Even if there is not a threat, but antisemitic activity, please call the RSA and contact the JCRC—email below—so that we can track, follow up and connect all sources of information.  Our RSA and the Secure Community Network (of which we are a part) has access to resources that helps track neo-Nazis, extremists and other people motivated by antisemitism. 
  • If incidents or related concerns occur in schools, know that you’re not alone. We are advocates for you there as well and we can help navigate through the school process.  You can reach me at mgolden@jewishlouisville.org with any questions. 
  • Try not to post or repost the antisemitic message on your own social media.  Often, this creates a wider audience for the hate and normalizes it in our society.  
  • Our Safe Louisville Initiative, our multi-year collaborative effort, will begin offering free training across many platforms to people within our community and will support other marginalized and threatened groups.     

My trip to Maine was lovely.  My children and I enjoyed Acadia National Park like thousands of other people getting ready to go back to school.   The buzz of antisemitism in the air did not define our vacation and it does not define who we are.   As I said before, I did not intend to write a vacation story. But the fact that we are facing a troubling rise in antisemitism without any indications that it is abating lets me know that we must all get back to work and continue to be vigilant.    

Matt Golden is a lawyer and the Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.   In his opinion, the JCRC is the most august body in the Jewish Community, seeking justice and doing tikkun olam.  He is admittedly very partial and biased in this regard.  He invites comments, suggestions or good stories at mgolden@jewishlouisville.org.      


[1]   Editor’s note:  We at Community are deliberately vague when it comes identifying the victims or locations of antisemitism, regardless of their appearance or nonappearance in other media sources.   This is in an effort to prevent re-victimization and potential repeat or copy-cat crimes.  In all instances, these acts are reported to law enforcement officials and national Jewish agencies, who provides the most comprehensive reporting on antisemitism. 


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