Michael Silver says he began to observe antisemitic behavior almost immediately after moving to Baltimore five years ago.

He said he hasn’t encountered violence personally, but remembered hearing a conversation in a Station North bar where college students were trivializing the Holocaust.

“They were saying there was too much emphasis put on it,” the 33-year-old Pigtown resident recalled. “Two weeks ago, I had a manager [at work] say, ‘Jews are really cheap.’ … It is a big deal, and it is a racial thing. I’ve had a lot of people say things that are bombastic and incendiary.”

Maryland saw 109 reported incidents of antisemitism in 2022, a 98% increase from 2021, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. There were 55 incidents in 2021, 47 in 2020 and 20 in 2019.

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“I’m very hurt. I don’t know the best way to solve this. When I hear these numbers, I feel reactionary. I feel angry and defensive. Those are all the exact opposite of what we need,” said Silver, whose grandfather survived the concentration camps at Auschwitz during World War II.

The Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization, attributes the increase to antisemitic incidents tied to opposition to Israel or Zionism and the mainstreaming of these attitudes in popular culture by figures such as rapper Kanye West and professional basketball player Kyrie Irving.

“We are deeply troubled by this dramatic surge of antisemitic incidents reported, particularly in Maryland and Virginia in 2022,” said Meredith R. Weisel, regional director for ADL Washington, D.C., in a written statement. “These numbers are completely unacceptable.”

Weisel attributed the spike to a surge in organized white supremacist propaganda activity, as well as an increase in incidents in K-12 schools and on college campuses.

Photos from July 2021 of the swastikas at the German Hill Road Cemeteries in southeast Baltimore.

Shortly before Hanukkah last year, for example, vandals painted “Jews Not Welcome” on an entrance sign at a Bethesda high school after a lesson on antisemitism, The Washington Post reported. Teachers reported getting antisemitic emails, and hateful graffiti was found at a mall bus stop and along a popular walking trail in Montgomery County.

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Also last year, vandals painted antisemitic graffiti on mailboxes on Greenspring Avenue in Baltimore County and swastikas and messages of hate on headstones at the German Hill Road Cemetery in Baltimore, WMAR reported in August.

Maryland’s numbers mean that the state registered the 10th highest number of antisemitic incidents in the country reported in 2022. The total includes 63 incidents of harassment; 43 incidents of vandalism; and three assaults — up from zero in 2021. Virginia, with 69 antisemitic incidents, saw a 50% increase during this period, while Washington, D.C., with 37 incidents, saw a 30% decrease, according to the audit.

It is particularly concerning that Maryland and Virginia saw such pronounced increases in reported incidents, as it shows there is a mainstreaming and normalization of antisemitic activity that is having a tremendous impact on our communities,” Weisel said. “We must work together to combat the spread of bigotry and hate in our communities.”

The Jewish community in the Baltimore region ranges from 100,000 to 120,000 people, according to Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. The figure covers not only some 95,000 Jews, but non-Jewish household members, such as spouses and children.

An interfaith gathering at the German Hill Road Cemeteries in southeast Baltimore was held to denounce hate crimes.

“I think it comes from all sides. Antisemitism is not just grounded in the right, the left or in faith. Unfortunately, we are seeing it from all political points of view,” Libit said. “There was a noticeable surge during the presidency of Donald Trump. But it’s not all just tied to him.”

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Libit cited a surge in white supremacist groups, as well as comments from “leaders in the entertainment industry, sports industry and elected officials … That encourages it [antisemitism] more broadly.”

Silver also attributed the increases to a variety of factors.

“I think that Trump’s ascendancy toward power definitely unlocked this door of right-wing fanaticism. But I also think that happened with the left,” Silver said, adding that he started seeing an uptick in antisemitism in 2008. “This academic environment is extremely hostile toward Jews. These millennials have this embedded in them and they don’t even realize it. It has become so much more acceptable to be audible about your prejudices.”

Silver also believes that isolation during the pandemic has been a contributing factor.

“It brought out all these crazy insecurities and crazy opinions,” he added.

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Libit said that the Baltimore region fortunately has not experienced the levels of violent crime and incidents that have occurred throughout the country. But he added that the uptick generally has caused concern within the Jewish community.

“We know there are many Jews who are changing their behavior because of antisemitism,” he said. “It could be as simple as they are not wearing a Star of David necklace. … At the same time, we have to keep things in perspective. We can’t become so obsessed with antisemitism and security that we lose sight of the fact that America is a safe space for Jewish people.”

This rings particularly true for Silver, who said that even though he is not a particularly religious person, he avoids adorning his home with religious symbols.

Silver does not have a mezuzah displayed on the outside of his home. The Jewish symbol is traditionally supposed to be affixed to the doorpost at the entrance of a Jewish home. Instead, he places his inside the home and out of sight from the outside. He also does not display a special menorah in his window during Hanukkah.

“I do have a Star of David that I do make sure I have tucked in,” he added.

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Libit cautioned that the number of antisemitic incidents reported is likely much lower than what actually occurs because people do not report them.

“They just wash off the vandalism off their house or car and they move on,” he lamented. “I think [the numbers] are far higher. The general consensus is that there are more. We are encouraging people to report it.”

Libit enthusiastically supports the recently announced national campaign, #StandUpToJewishHate. The $25 million effort led by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft encourages all Americans — especially non-Jewish people — to combat antisemitism. Supporters are being encouraged to post blue squares in social media posts to show their solidarity with the campaign.

“I think you are going to see influencers joining in on this campaign,” Libit said. “If we can help spread the word about the dangers of antisemitism, we can be successful.”

In the meantime, Libit said, his organization will continue to promote education about antisemitism; encourage allyship and the support of other groups that experience hate; and advocate for tougher hate crimes and security.

Silver is glad there are efforts to increase awareness of antisemitism. But he worries that a blue square campaign might draw ire from people thinking that it might be too similar to Black Lives Matter social media efforts.

He believes that sincerity and tolerance are key.

“As I have gotten older, unfortunately my position has gone from, ‘How do we repair these relationships?’ to a much more hawkish position of ‘How do we protect ourselves?’ I recognize that is unfortunate, but it is honest,” he said.

johnj.williams@thebaltimorebanner.com

John-John Williams IV is a diversity, equity and inclusion reporter at The Baltimore Banner. A native of Syracuse, N.Y. and a graduate of Howard University, he has lived in Baltimore for the past 17 years. 

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