Since a shooter entered a Pittsburgh synagogue on the Sabbath morning of October 27 and shot 12 individuals, many Jews have felt a new sense of urgency regarding discussions of anti-Semitism. By all accounts, anti-Semitism is on the rise, as is anti-Semitic sentiment and hostility toward Jews. This comes at a time when hostility toward black Americans is also rising, and reports of growing agitation by many Americans toward immigrants is also noticeably increasing.
Kendra Fuchs, a friend of mine from college who lives in my neighborhood and is a realtor, was recently the victim of an anti-Semitic vandalism attack. I spoke to her about what happened, how it has affected her, and what we can do about it.
She first heard about the incident when a community member phoned her. The caller said, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your realtor sign on the corner of Miranda and Whitsett has been vandalized and says some pretty horrible things.”
Kendra was especially upset to hear about her sign being vandalized as it comes on the heels of our community already being on edge; in the past weeks a man was tearing wigs off of observant Jewish women as an act of hostility toward religious people (he was found, arrested and has since been released). Since Kendra is a very vocal member of the community, she was wondering if someone saw her on the news because she had been interviewed about the wig incidents.
As she stared at the picture of her defaced sign, which the good Samaritan texted her, Kendra wondered if it was vandalized because she “looks Jewish” or if someone saw her name and figured she was Jewish; the name Kendra is certainly not a very “Jewish” name, nor is “Fuchs” undeniably Jewish. While Jews can be black, white or Asian, and while they can have small features or large, indeed there is a stereotype of what “Jews” look like. And while Jews can go by the names Goldstein, Goldfarb, or Finkelstein, there are also Smiths and Crosses and names which, like Fuchs, don’t necessarily sound Jewish.
Kendra first called her husband to let him know what had happened and then reached out to someone who is involved with Hatzolah, an emergency responder volunteer organization in the Jewish community that is closely affiliated with the police department. She also posted on the community web app chat for the neighborhood.
It’s important to note that this comes at a time when Jewish people have been very nervous and on high alert after the Pittsburgh shooting, and already her kids’ schools have increased security and new protocols for safety, and the schuls [synagogues] in our community also have new security protocols.
A lot of people in our community–including a woman who got her wig pulled off–are asking, “Why do we have to put ourselves out there as obviously Jewish? We shouldn’t be so blatant about our Jewishness; why go out of our way to make ourselves targets?”
Kendra is of the opposite mind. She says she will not be hiding anything. “My grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust for me to be living in America where they came to be free only to have to hide,” she says. “That’s not what I want to do. I want my kids to be proud and Jewish; I want to be proud and Jewish.”
She grew up in Riverside, California, where she was one of two Jewish kids in her class. Once, a classmate threatened to tar and feather and burn her for some minor offense on the playground. Kendra’s grandmother, who was in hiding during the Holocaust, heard about the incident at Kendra’s school and was furious. She took it upon herself to start visiting public schools in order to talk about the Holocaust and educate young people to understand the power that words have.
I want my kids to be proud and Jewish; I want to be proud and Jewish.
Wondering if this happened to her for some Divine reason, Kendra says through tears: “As we are in the era of most of the Holocaust survivors making their way into the next world [a euphemism for passing on], as the granddaughter of survivors, I almost feel like maybe this happened so that I could be the one to inform people that know nothing about the Holocaust how this kind of hatred can’t go on. So many people, if you ask them about the Holocaust, they have no idea what really happened. It makes me so sad. People need to be educated.”
Kendra reported the incident to the detective assigned to the “wig snatcher” case. However, she was informed that that particular detective is on vacation until next month so another detective will be in charge. She hasn’t heard back since. She also reported it to the Anti Defamation League (ADL). Apparently, you just go on the website and just type in what happened. I can’t believe we live in an age where you can just report your antisemitic event of the week on a website, but we do.
Kendra decided to be honest with her kids about what happened. She reminded them of her grandparents’ struggles against the Nazis. Her husband’s grandmother was in Bergen-Belsen and his grandfather was in Siberia during the War. Her grandfather worked for the Dutch Underground and saved 60 people from the Nazis. She reminds her children never to keep quiet about this kind of hatred and to tell as many people as they can what happened. She added, “This is not OK; we do not stand for people trying to push us around. It’s happened for centuries and we’re not going to take it; we’re not going to go silently.”
Whereas I see an increase in rhetoric by many anti-Semitic groups since President Trump’s nomination, Kendra is not ready to point fingers at the president. She feels that everyone behaves differently now that they can hide behind a computer screen. She feels a touch of skepticism and paranoia is justified, and she doesn’t plan to let this go.
I hope she follows up. And I am also sad to know that the ADL and the police are being flooded with reports. And maybe more people are reporting things and maybe more things are happening. Either way, it feels kind of crazy to be living with this level of vigilance and fear. I can only hope education will help. In the meantime, increased security and staying close to those we love in our communities is keeping us strong.