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A student at The University of Georgia, customarily covers his eyes as he says the Shema remembering the victims of the shooting at a Synagogue, Tree of Life Congregation, in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018 at an event honoring the victims. The vigil had nearly 400 students and members of the Athens community at the event to honor the victims, the event was hosted by Chabad at UGA and Hillel at UGA outside the Tate Center in Athens, Georgia on Tuesday 30, Oct. 2018. (Photo/Kyle Nadler Instagram: @kylenadler).

The Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic attacks were near record highs in 2018, including 30 incidents in Georgia alone — the highest in any state in the southeast.

These statistics reinforce a worrying trend of rising anti-Semitism in the United States, and we must take the threat seriously to act against hatred.

The ADL recorded 1,879 anti-Semitic attacks in the United States in 2018, the third-highest year since the ADL began to track the data in the 1970s. The number of anti-Semitic attacks was actually down 5% from their 2017 levels but remained much higher than most other years, suggesting that the recent outbreak in anti-Semitism is a long-lasting problem that we must address immediately.

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in American history. According to Jonathan Sarna, the director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies and a professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, there were forms of anti-Semitism as early as the 17th century and has waxed and waned over time.

“There’s no period without anti-Semitism,” Sarna said. “It’s gone up and down. In the ‘20s, you have the anti-Semitic newspaper articles and ravings of Henry Ford. Anti-Semitism begins to decline after World War II, largely because Americans didn’t want to be like the Nazis.”

Indeed, after World War II, Jews began to make great progress in American society, and anti-Semitism declined. For example, according to Pew Research Center, 58% of Jewish respondents who have gotten married since 2000 have intermarried, compared to only 17% before 1970, suggesting that relationship prejudices against Jews may have decreased. Further, according to Leonard Dinnerstein in the journal article, "Anti-semitism Exposed and Attacked," colleges began to accept more Jews after World War II, a reversal of the “Jewish quotas” imposed by many elite American universities in the 1920s.

However, Jewish progress has had an unfortunate side effect. The reduction in anti-Semitism lulled us into thinking that we had eradicated prejudice toward Jews in the United States.

“Then, from really the middle of the 90s to the start of the 2000s, there was some anti-Semitism but it seemed confined to extremists,” Sarna said. “This is surprising to a lot of young Jews because they’ve never seen anti-Semitism like this before.”

Similarly, Laurie Goodstein reported in The New York Times that many American Jews believed the worst anti-Semitism was mostly confined to Europe.

However, anti-Semitic attacks like at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally, the Tree of Life synagogue shooting and the recent Poway synagogue shooting force us to accept that the problem never went away. To combat the recent uptick in anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews, we need to search for methods to increase awareness and equality.

Baruch Halpern, a Covenant Foundation Distinguished professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Georgia, believes we can reduce anti-Semitism through fostering communities.

“Familiarity and integration tend to reduce these problems,” Halpern said. “It’s really developing a communitarian attitude. And it’s hard to cultivate those. But a communitarian attitude makes people equal under the law.”

By following professor Halpern’s advice, we can reverse the recent surge in anti-Semitism and create a safer, more inclusive society for all.

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