Fall River, MA– During my first week at college in Massachusetts, we were partnered up in small groups and asked to describe ourselves to our new classmates. Although this was years ago, I still remember one girl's reaction: "Oh, you're Jewish?" she said. "I've never met one before! So... what's the deal with Israel?" Putting aside that strange remark, living as a Jew in Boston has been a mostly welcoming experience, but certainly a far cry from my upbringing in the more densely populated Jewish areas of Brooklyn and Manhattan.
Which is why yesterday's news hit hard.
Fifty-nine headstones were desecrated with anti-Semitic language in black marker at the Hebrew Cemetery on McMahon Street in Fall River sometime over the weekend, according to CBS Boston. Some of the headstones had been knocked down.
The Herald News reported that some of the gravestones had swastikas and messages that read “Heil Hitler” and “Hitler was right.” Another gravestone reportedly read “Oy vey! This is MAGA country,” referring to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan.
“If that was written on a gravestone, then that person is connecting the slogan of our current president with his own anti-Semitism,” said Rabbi Jacqueline Romm Satlow, who oversees the UMass Dartmouth Center For Jewish Culture. Upon learning of the incident, Satlow said she was sad and disheartened.
Police said on Tuesday that they are treating the vandalism as a hate crime.
It's tempting to write this off as a one-off incident, just a few hateful people trying to get attention. But the Herald News mentions that there has been a rise in anti-Semitic activity in the United States. Satlow noted that anti-Semitic incidents are on the rise nationwide. In Massachusetts, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) recorded 177 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017, a 42 percent increase over 2016.
The ADL has developed a new heat map showing where and when anti-Semitic acts have taken place across the country. According to their website, in 2017 and 2018 there were almost 4,000 incidents of extremism or antisemitism in the United States.
Some may remember the flyers passed around at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in October of 2018. The flyers read: "Every time some anti-white, anti-America, anti-Freedom event takes place, you look at it, and it's Jews behind it."
Hopefully in the wake of another despicable action, Bostonians will rise above this tiny minority of hateful people and support their Jewish neighbors.