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Rise in antisemitic incidents in South Florida prompts Jewish groups to spend thousands on security

Figures show 40% increase in antisemitic incidents in Florida last year
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Posted at 9:00 AM, May 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-19 23:27:37-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Harassment, vandalism, assault and even Zoom meetings have been disrupted by graphic and racist messages.

Antisemitism has been on the rise in America, and Florida is seeing a surge in incidents, causing a rise in the costs of security.

RELATED: Antisemitic incidents remain at high levels, according to ADL report

From Boca Raton to Tequesta, Palm Beach County is home to the most Jewish Americans in South Florida, and the population is increasing rapidly.

"We're seeing a strong Jewish community growing in Boynton, Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter," said Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz.

Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz
Rabbi Andrew Rosenkranz discusses the recent antisemitic vandalism at a vacant Wellington restaurant.

But according to the Anti-Defamation League, Florida is now also home to the fourth most antisemitic incidents in the United States.

"We went out to investigate, and it wasn't just one, but it was many and multiple," Rosenkranz said.

Earlier this year, Rosenkranz said swastikas were found drawn on windows of a vacant restaurant in Wellington located around the corner from his synagogue, Temple Beth Torah.

"When you see a symbol like that, and you're a member of a community that it's directed towards, you know there are people out there who hate you," Rosenkranz.

The ADL just released its audit of antisemitic incidents, which says Florida saw a 40 percent increase in 2020 compared to 2019.

ADL audit of antisemitic incidents says Florida saw a 40 percent increase in 2020 compared to 2019
An Anti-Defamation League audit shows antisemitic incidents in Florida increased to 127 in 2020.

The ADL's H.E.A.T. (Hate, Extremism, Antisemitism, Terrorism) Map shows most of the incidents happening in South Florida.

"In the last three years, we have seen the highest numbers of antisemitic incidents targeting the Jewish community since we started recording the audit in 1979," said Yael Hershfied, interim regional director of the ADL's Florida office.

She said the lockdown at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic did not prevent the hate, and those who pedal it started infiltrating new spaces.

"For example, Shabbat services at synagogues that were being held over Zoom, and we learned this new term now -- Zoombombing. It was being infiltrated by haters," Hershfied said.

Yael Hershfied, interim regional director of the ADL's Florida office
Yael Hershfied said the lockdown from the pandemic caused people who pedal hate to infiltrate new spaces like Zoom.

A new Pew Research Center report released this month not only shows the rise in antisemitism, but it also said more than half of Jewish Americans feel less safe than five years ago.

Now, Jewish institutions and synagogues are making upgrades and spending a significant amount of money on security.

"Over the past two years we have brought in about $700,000 in federal funding to go to about a dozen or so different Jewish institutions to support things like panic buttons, cameras on the outside," said Michael Hoffman, the President & CEO at Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.

Hoffman said five years ago security spending was minimal. But now it's working with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA and local law enforcement to ensure everyone's safety while also investing in education to combat antisemitism.

Michael Hoffman, President & CEO at Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County
Michael Hoffman says the increased incidents have prompted Jewish institutions to spend a significant amount of money on security.

"Over $600,000 is being spent on an annual basis to help support the community advocacy and educational needs in our community," Hoffman said.

Rosenkranz said hate is a learned trait. He teaches love and tolerance, and although it's a strain on the budget, he said he cannot afford not to also focus on security.

"We now have the ritual of a bar mitzvah, we have the ritual of a wedding ceremony, we have the Jewish ritual of a funeral. Now, we have the ritual of security," Rosenkranz.

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