Police must protect us more from all this anti-Semitism


(re: “Weekend vandalism targets 4 synagogues,” April 29)

When I was 16, the Seattle Jewish Federation was attacked by a violent shooter on a Friday afternoon. A woman died, and four were shot — mostly non-Jews, since many of the Jews already had left for Shabbat.

When I worked at that federation several years later for a summer fellowship, the pain and trauma was still palpable. Some people talked about the shooting every day. Others would leave the room any time it came up. As we approached the anniversary, the conversations became more intense and frequent, with some staff members experiencing post-traumatic episodes.

While I had experienced many anti-Semitic incidents growing up, such as being called a “kike,” this was the first time I felt the traumatic impact of violent modern anti-Semitism in America.

During my fellowship, I sat in numerous meetings and task forces with law enforcement as they told us about their plans to keep the Jewish community safe.

I was used to seeing law enforcement outside my synagogue during services. Like many American Jews, I saw the police as our allies in preventing anti-Semitism, and felt safer with their constant presence.

My perspective began shifting as I heard from Jewish friends of color who expressed their discomfort with the presence of armed police officers outside Jewish institutions. When entering the building, they were often questioned about their presence, and treated with skepticism.

I realized my appreciation for the presence of police officers did not match the experiences of Jews of color.

Last summer, Riverdalians of all backgrounds gathered to protest against the injustice, violence and discrimination in the institution of policing. I spoke with neighbors and friends who had always assumed the police were an instrument of safety.

For the first time, they questioned how and why George Floyd — a Black man simply standing on the street — could have been murdered. When the fervor of the summer’s protests ended, some returned to their original perspectives on policing, but many were left with a lingering realization that the system that led to George Floyd’s murder was inherently broken.

When I heard about the anti-Semitic vandalism of multiple synagogues in Riverdale, my heart hurt for the trauma and pain this would evoke. Jews have a long history of seeing our synagogues attacked, triggering the memory of deadly violence across the world. We continue to experience trauma with anti-Semitic shootings in Pittsburgh, Poway and Jersey City in recent years, just to name a few.

The response to what happened in Riverdale was formulaic: The New York Police Department convened synagogue and Jewish institution leaders to discuss their plans to increase patrolling. Yet despite the purported increased patrolling, another incident occurred at one of the same synagogues while the police were supposed to be watching.

If the true goal is Jewish safety, the system is not working.

Maybe this is the time we look for other responses. We look to community-led safety like we have seen in New York City in support of Asian-Americans.

We reach out to our non-Jewish friends and neighbors to be our partners in protecting our synagogues, just like hundreds of Jews volunteered to provide security across Asian-led vigils, events, and calls to action this spring with “Jews for Asians.”

We bring in social workers to hold space for the trauma and fear that our community members are experiencing.

We engage in community education and implement restorative justice programs to give those impacted by hate a voice in how harm can be repaired, and future harm prevented.

Our neighbors keep us safe. We keep each other safe.

We have heard and seen over and over again that police pose a threat to Black people and Black lives. We cannot say we support Black lives if our default response to all anti-Semitic incidents is to constantly increase the presence of police. I do not want the attempts to secure my safety to threaten that of others.

Jews continue to be targets for violence, but the models of policing that currently exist are by and large not impeding attacks such as this. Jewish safety and dignity are intertwined with that of all communities.

My fellow Jews, join me in building a new path and seeking collective safety for all.

The author is a special projects manager with the city’s social services department.

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Sasha Kesler,