Jewish Wisconsinites react to the concerning rise in antisemitic attacks

By Salina Heller

November 6, 2023

While there haven’t been any major incidents in the state, the war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas has created a hostile environment in the Badger State–and a dangerous one across the US.

 

“We always have a police presence at any sort of gathering,” Rabbi Brian Serle, who leads Congregation Sons of Abraham, a synagogue in La Crosse, explained.

Serle said this has been the case for the last few years and is appreciative that the La Crosse Police Department understands his community’s need to feel secure. “We haven’t had an incident, but they’re a deterrent,” Serle said, of police protection. “We’re not willing to be complacent.”

The Numbers

Jewish residents make up less than 1% of Wisconsin’s population, yet they’re disproportionately the target of hate crimes, according to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, which tracks reports of antisemitism.

The group says that last year there was a 6% increase in attacks. Most involved passing out flyers in residential neighborhoods and schools that promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories.

This fall, there’s been another uptick according to the Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Madison. “I’ve had two reports of threats on social media at one Madison high school this week,” Alan Klugman told UNN. “Normally I hear of about one per month.”

Although Serle said he hasn’t seen or heard about any violence in his community right now, locals have been experiencing moves “to intimidate.”

“A congregant told me about swastikas that had been painted on political billboards throughout a suburb,” Serle said. “Two months later, UW-La Crosse students were greeted with chalk-marked comments supporting antisemitic diatribes.”

RELATED: Reported antisemitic acts in Wisconsin rose 494% from 2015-2022

The president of UWL’s College Republicans resigned her post after those hate remarks were posted on social media. ButKlugman is still worried about social media amplifying extreme viewpoints.

“Antisemitism and other forms of hate—against people of color, LGBTQ—have been out there, but social media makes it easier for people to be cowards,” Klugman said.

Earlier this month, the phrase “Hitler was right” started trending again on X. That memed phrase was posted more than 70,000 times last year, too.

Rabbi Serle just hopes that people don’t feel in danger as they’re walking down the street—here or in Israel. “I have 5 grandchildren in Israel. I’m very worried but I’m counting on their Air Force to protect them.”

“Fourteen-hundred people were murdered with stories too horrible to repeat,” Klugman said, of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on innocent civilians. “We haven’t had the death of that many people in one day since the Holocaust.”

What You Can Do

Learn how to be a better ally to Wisconsin’s Jewish community on StandUpToJewishHate.org.

If you’re experiencing antisemitism at your school or university campus, you deserve support. Visit Standwithus.com for free, legal help.

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