May 4, 2022

Combating Antisemitism Is Goal of Campaign Across Mercer County

By Anne Levin

For the year 2020, Mercer County has been rated among the top five New Jersey counties for most documented instances of antisemitism. According to the nonprofit Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks, that’s a 93 percent increase from the previous year.

The trend continues all over New Jersey. Last week, unidentified assailants are reported to have thrown eggs at a Jewish fraternity house at Rutgers University as members were commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day by reading out the names of Holocaust victims over a 24-hour period. And that’s just one isolated example.

Enough is enough, say members of the Jewish Federation, which has announced a campaign to try to combat antisemitism locally and help create a safer environment for Jewish individuals living in the region. A billboard on Route 1, signage on buses, and a Jewish American Heritage Festival on Sunday, May 15 in Palmer Square are all part of the effort. The festival, from 2-5 p.m., will feature kosher food trucks and musical performances by The Maccabeats and Princeton University’s Jewish a cappella group, Koleinu.

“Last year, we held a rally for combating antisemitism and hate in Hinds Plaza, and we had a really great showing,” said Daniel Herscovici, president of the organization. “As we saw the continued rise in incidents around us, we wanted to perhaps come forward with a different voice. That voice is centered around being proud of your heritage, and not being fearful of showing who you are as an individual.”

Herscovici and colleagues began to look for a campaign that could do just that. They have decided to partner with the organization JewBelong, which has been fighting growing antisemitism with brightly colored billboards in New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Orlando, Miami, and other cities expressing sentiments such as: “Let’s ask everyone who’s wondering if Jew hate is real to wear a yarmulke for a week and then report back” and “I promise to love being Jewish 10x more than anyone hates me for it.”

“Antisemitism has become tolerated and normalized in far too many circles across North America,” said Archie Gottesman, the cofounder of JewBelong. “The type of hatred leveled against Jews followed by the deafening silence from supposedly good people should be abhorrent to anyone who stands for justice. You don’t have to be a historian to know that being quiet about hate doesn’t stop the haters — it emboldens them. The time when Jewish people would remain silent in hopes that the hate would disappear has long passed.”

The campaign’s message applies not only to Jews, but to any group that experiences persecution. “Part of it is to be unafraid of who you are in a public forum,” Herscovici said. “I think everybody can relate to that — LGBTQ, Asians, African Americans — everyone wants to be who they are and be comfortable with that.”

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. “We can’t think of any better moment to create awareness of the antisemitism Jews across our country face, especially our youth who have experienced hate through social media and bias at school,” said Herscovici. “Our wish is that Jews across New Jersey and nationwide hold their heads high and be proud of who they are.”

While there is some concern about backlash, “the benefit outweighed the risk,” Hercovici said, adding that some conflate actions of the Israeli government with being Jewish. “People are often blatantly antisemitic under the guise of disagreements with Israel. Political disagreement is something we should talk about, but carrying it through to hatred of Jews is where things start to get unwarranted.”