by Jeremy Dys and Rabbi Yaakov Menken in Newsweek
Americans, rightly horrified, watch the ongoing violence in Israel while, close to home, a nefarious wave of intolerance spreads. Only a commitment to freedom will stop the spread of violence.
According to just-released FBI data, Jewish Americans faced 1,305 incidents meriting the label of “hate crime” in 2022. That was up from 817 in the prior year. Violence toward American Jews ranged from destruction of property and vandalism (775 cases) to intimidation (358) to simple and violent assault (141).
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No religious group faced more intolerance in 2022 in America, according to these statistics. Anti-Muslim sentiment was the next closest with 205 documented reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes.
Such intimidation of religious people undermines the promise of the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Hatred and harassment toward those peacefully exercising their religion is evil and must be overcome with good. Anyone intimidating or harassing those peacefully practicing their religion must be condemned in the strongest terms possible—lest intimidation and harassment turn to violence.
Violent antisemitism should be opposed regardless of where on the globe it occurs. In America, it flows from the breakdown of religious liberty. Thus, while Americans may disagree over religion, there should be no disagreement on our buttressing the free exercise of religion for all people.
Cases of destruction of Jewish-owned property and the vandalism of synagogues, for instance, do not materialize overnight. Take the experience of our client and friend, respectively, Rabbi Yaakov Rich and Congregation Toras Chaim. In the suburbs of Dallas, Texas, Rabbi Rich sought to use his home to host religious gatherings of Orthodox Jews. But his neighbors viewed him with suspicion. The homeowners association sued him, trying to prevent his religious meetings. While the association took legal action, someone spray-painted a swastika on the Rabbi’s car.
Official intolerance demonstrated by the homeowners association led to aggression and vandalism by an individual.
In California, animal rights activists filed a slew of lawsuits to prevent the ancient Jewish tradition of Kapparot—a religious rite in which Orthodox Jews contemplate the atonement of their sins through the Kosher and humane killing of a chicken. While First Liberty Institute worked to prevent efforts to end the millennia-old religious tradition in the Ninth Circuit, emboldened activists vandalized Los Angeles’ Hebrew Discovery Center, splattering it with red paint and throwing bricks at the property.
Lawfare targeting an ancient tradition that survived the Babylonian exile and the Roman occupation of Israel gave cover for individuals to use violence and intimidation against the Jewish people of Los Angeles.
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation,” wrote President George Washington to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. America’s commitment to freedom—and religious freedom in particular—has, in past days, quelled violence and intimidation toward “the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land,” giving “bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” as Washington wrote.
Only that same commitment to religious liberty will keep disagreement from boiling over to intolerance, intimidation, and worse.
It is in times of darkness that the flame of liberty must be our guiding light. Thus, we join the prayer of our first president: “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”
Originally published in Newsweek
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