Chabad of Oakland's menorah at Lake Merritt on Dec. 10, before it was vandalized (right) and graffiti left where the menorah stood before it was pulled down. (Photos/Courtesy Chabad of Oakland)
Chabad of Oakland's menorah at Lake Merritt on Dec. 10, before it was vandalized (right) and graffiti left where the menorah stood before it was pulled down. (Photos/Courtesy Chabad of Oakland)

Most Bay Area Jews are more fearful since Oct. 7, survey finds

Some 61% of Bay Area Jews feel less safe in their day-to-day lives since Oct. 7, according to a new survey.

The survey, released Wednesday by the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, found widespread concern about antisemitism in wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack and subsequent Israel-Hamas war. It also found high levels of unease about how antisemitism has been addressed, especially in political and educational settings.

“The big takeaway for us is how dissatisfied Jews are with the way that civic institutions are handling antisemitism,” said JCRC CEO Tye Gregory. “Whether that’s social media, or K-12 schools, our higher education system, local government — there was widespread dissatisfaction.”

JCRC commissioned the report to assess community attitudes since Oct. 7 when Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel and took an estimated 240 hostages. A similar survey was conducted a year ago, offering a baseline for comparing views before and after the attack.

The organization hadn’t planned to run another survey so soon but felt compelled amid a sharp increase in antisemitic incidents globally.

“Obviously, an Earth-shattering event in the Jewish world happened,” Gregory said. “We decided we needed [a survey] mostly to measure pre- and post-Oct. 7 attitudes and have some form of a referendum on how the civic community was handling antisemitism.”

EMC Research conducted the survey between Nov. 21 and Dec. 6 of 859 adults who identified as Jewish in the nine-county area.

They were asked on a scale of 1 (“not at all comfortable”) to 7 (“extremely comfortable”) how they feel expressing their Jewish identity in places where few others identify as Jewish: 21% picked 1, 2 or 3, the low end of the comfort scale. Meanwhile, 65% picked 5, 6 or 7 (including 27% at the highest end).

That compares with 15% on the low end of the scale last year and 70% on the high end.

The new results indicate people “still feel somewhat safe going about the world as themselves,” Gregory said.

“But 27% is pretty low in terms of feeling very comfortable, very confident walking into these spaces,” he added. “Even a 5 or a 6, ‘somewhat comfortable,’ would indicate to me that there is some degree of apprehension or questions that people have about whether they’re going to be accepted.”

Respondents were the most hesitant about expressing their identity on social media — with 37% choosing the low end of the comfort spectrum and 43% picking the high end.

Among “social justice spaces,” politically progressive settings, politically conservative settings and schools and colleges, results were similar: 25% to 29% chose the low end of the comfort scale of expressing identity, while 54% to 57% picked the high end.

Overall, the survey indicated a decrease in comfort levels compared with the September 2022 poll.

Gregory noted that most Bay Area Jews describe themselves as progressive or liberal — 64% according to JCRC’s 2022 survey. But since Oct. 7, they feel just as uncomfortable expressing their identity in left-leaning spaces as they do in right-leaning ones.

“We saw a gap last year between how safe people felt in conservative political settings and progressive political settings,” he said. “Now, there’s no gap.”

Rabbi Mark Bloom of Oakland’s Temple Beth Abraham said he’s been hearing these types of fears from his congregants. Immediately after Oct. 7, there were concerns about synagogue security and whether people should remove their mezuzahs. Now it’s different.

“What concerns most people now is the ‘softer’ fear about the longer Jewish prospects in the Bay Area,” he said.

You wonder, ‘Do these people hate me?’

Congregants tell him they sometimes feel uncomfortable doing everyday things like walking into cafes, especially after reports of anti-Israel vandalism and confrontation. Bloom said he understands their concerns.

“You wonder, ‘Do these people hate me?’” he said.

The rabbi added that parents, particularly in Oakland, are concerned about antisemitism in schools. Oakland parents of Jewish and pro-Israel students have been especially worried since the teachers union passed an anti-Zionist resolution and organized a teach-in. The intense vitriol against Israel and Jews in public comments at the Nov. 27 Oakland City Council meeting, ahead of the passage of a cease-fire resolution, was an “existential turning point” for many people, Bloom said.

According to the JCRC survey, 18% of people said they had personally experienced antisemitism since Oct. 7 and another 18% said they had personally witnessed it.

Of those respondents, 31% said they had faced it online and 10% said the same about school.

Respondents between 18 and 29, who accounted for 9% of those surveyed, reported the highest levels of antisemitic incidents of any age group — with 30% experiencing it personally and another 25% witnessing it.

Ruth Bernstein, CEO of Oakland-based EMC, which conducted the survey, said the survey’s results “confirmed what I’ve been hearing.”

“My kids are twenty-somethings, they’re Gen Z. And they have been talking a lot about how they’ve been really feeling uncomfortable around a lot of their friends on social media — and sometimes not even on social media,” she said.

Although people’s personal definitions of antisemitism are subjective and can’t be captured in numbers, Bernstein said you can measure levels of fear. She compared it to hearing a crime report about higher levels of robbery in your neighborhood and feeling insecure.

If you previously felt comfortable expressing your Jewish identity in your day-to-day life, she said, “and now suddenly you don’t feel safe, that changes your life.”

The shifts from last year are notable when it comes to Israel.

Roughly the same number — 89% — “strongly” or “somewhat” agree that Israel has the “right to exist as a Jewish or democratic state.”

But 8 percentage points more — 66% this year versus 58% last year — said they “agreed or somewhat agreed” that they have a personal connection to Israel. At the same time, fewer people felt comfortable expressing their views about Israel publicly, dropping to 66% this year from 76% last year.

JCRC plans to use the survey results to educate the non-Jewish community amid the rise in antisemitism.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose 337 percent in the two months following Oct. 7, compared with the same period last year.

“We think that this is an important toolkit to educate education leaders, government officials, civic leaders, progressive communities as to how we’re feeling both about how they’re handling antisemitism and how they see us,” Gregory said.

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.