Mourners leave mementos across the street from the Chabad Community Center in Poway, April 29, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Gabrielle Birkner)
Mourners leave mementos across the street from the Chabad Community Center in Poway, April 29, 2019. (Photo/JTA-Gabrielle Birkner)

California ranks third in number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2019

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Updated May 12, 3:20 p.m.

Last year saw the most anti-Semitic incidents in the United States since at least 1979, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The 2,107 incidents recorded in 2019 reflect a 12 percent increase from 2018 and are more than double the 942 incidents recorded four years earlier, in 2015. It’s the highest number recorded by the ADL since it began tallying incidents in 1979.

California had the third highest number, at 330 incidents, following New York (430) and New Jersey (345).

One of California’s most violent incidents occurred April 27, 2019 in San Diego County, where one person was killed and three wounded when a gunman fired shots inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue.

Elsewhere, East Bay resident Ross Farca posted online death threats against Jews and was found to have stored away weapons and ammunition during his arrest. Last month, Farca, 24, pleaded guilty to a felony count of lying to the U.S. government; a sentencing hearing has been scheduled for May 29.

On the Peninsula, swastikas, racist and homophobic graffiti were found at Burlingame High School in September.

And in Marin County a month earlier, flyers claiming that Jews masterminded the 9/11 attacks were found in downtown Novato and at San Marin High School, later linked to a YouTube user named “Handsome Truth 5.”

“That’s typically the case,” said Seth Brysk, regional director for ADL’s Central Pacific Region, referring to the state’s high amount of incidents. “There’s a large Jewish population here. There’s a large population here, in general.”

While there was a small decline in incidents in California last year (330) compared to 341 incidents in 2018, Brysk said that when you view the data over a longer period of time, the state has seen a “dramatic climb” in incidents. Brysk also said that there is no particular city in California that is a particular hotspot for anti-Semtism, but rather, the organization sees incidents occur in small and large towns across the state.

Brysk described the 2019 report as “shocking” and emphasized that hatred toward Jews has ripple effects across broader society.

“Anti-Semitism begins with Jews, but it doesn’t end with Jews,” Brysk said, quoting Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

Aside from a small dip in total incidents in 2018, the ADL’s annual statistics show that anti-Semitism in the United States has been on a steady climb for much of the past decade.

Including the Poway shooting, last year saw a number of high-profile anti-Semitic incidents. On Dec. 10, two shooters killed four people, including two Jews, in an attack that ended at a Jersey City kosher supermarket. Eighteen days later, an attacker killed one person and wounded four in a stabbing at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, New York.

The year also saw a stream of anti-Semitic incidents in Brooklyn, mostly targeting Orthodox Jews. Earlier in the year, and in a different arena, Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman from Minnesota, made comments widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

“This was a year of unprecedented anti-Semitic activity, a time when many Jewish communities across the country had direct encounters with hate,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL for nearly 5½ years, said in a statement accompanying the report. “This contributed to a rising climate of anxiety and fear in our communities.”

A recently released study by the ADL found that the majority of American Jews have witnessed or experienced anti-Semitism in the past five years. Nearly two-thirds said they’re less safe than they were a decade ago.

The ADL’s annual report on anti-Semitic incidents is compiled using data reported to the organization and then evaluated by its Center on Extremism. The data come from people affected, community leaders and law enforcement.

As the report covers 2019, it does not refer to the shift in how anti-Semitism has manifested during the coronavirus pandemic. Long-lasting stay-at-home orders could drive down the number of anti-Semitic encounters, but the ADL and others who monitor anti-Semitism say the pandemic could contribute to new forms of hate, especially online.

Last year saw a rise in anti-Semitic physical assaults, to 61 from 39, as well as a 19 percent increase in acts of anti-Semitic vandalism and a 6 percent increase in ant-Semitic harassment.

The 1,127 incidents of harassment made up more than half the total number of incidents in the report, which also tallied 919 incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism, including 746 involving a swastika.

Last year marked the latest in a string of years when American Jews suffered an attack that has gained national attention, sparked protest from Jews worldwide and seared itself to Jewish communal memory. The previous year, 2018, included the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, in which 11 Jews at prayer were killed. In 2017, at a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, one person was killed and neo-Nazis chanted anti-Semitic slogans.

In 2019, New York City was hit especially hard: More than half of the year’s 61 anti-Semitic physical assaults took place in the five boroughs. Brooklyn felt the brunt with 25.

Overall in 2019, New York state experienced 430 anti-Semitic incidents, the most of any state and one-fifth of the U.S. total. The state is home to more than one-fifth of American Jews.

Every state in the continental U.S. and Washington, D.C., had at least one incident.

More of the 2019 incidents were reported in public areas, such as in parks or on the street, than in 2018, and fewer were reported on campus and in Jewish institutions such as schools or synagogues. Eleven percent of the incidents (234) took place at Jewish institutions, and nearly 9 percent (186) occurred on campus.

Thirteen percent of the incidents (270) were committed by members of extremist groups or those inspired by an extremist ideology like neo-Nazism or black nationalism, the ADL found. Most of those were pieces of propaganda such as flyers or banners.

Eight percent of incidents (171) involved references to Israel and Zionism. Of those that referenced Israel, 68 came from white supremacist groups. Most of the rest took place on campus.

Gabriel Greschler

Gabriel Greschler was a staff writer at J. from 2019 to 2021.

Ben Sales
Ben Sales

Ben Sales is news editor of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.