Jewish leaders warn of rise in antisemitic incidents

Seattle-area Jewish leaders are warning about a rise in antisemitic incidents.

They say people are becoming emboldened to act on hate, and they are particularly concerned about cases in schools.

One example is what Samantha Tarlowe experienced last December.

As Hanukkah approached, she organized the first meeting of the Jewish Student Union at Skyline High School.

“I wanted there to be a safe place for all of us to come together and meet and just bring awareness to Jewish culture,” Tarlowe said.

After she promoted the event on Instagram, another student received a direct message that read, “Perfect, now I know where I can continue Hitler’s legacy.”

“It felt like a threat,” Tarlowe said.

Issaquah School District officials said they swiftly investigated and the student who sent the message faced consequences.

Tarlowe and her parents are more concerned that some students thought the message was funny.

“You don’t joke about when six million innocent Jews were murdered,” said her father, Michael Tarlowe.

“I think a big part of it is a lack of education about the Holocaust. I don’t think they fully understood the seriousness of the issue,” Samantha Tarlowe said.

Miri Cypers, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said antisemitic incidents in schools and on social media are becoming more common, like a photographed off-campus Nazi salute by Mercer Island High School students in 2019.

“What we’re seeing is old hatreds being refashioned and reimagined to really meet the world we’re in,” Cypers said.

The ADL maintains a heat map of hateful incidents, with 630 reported in Washington in 2020 and 2021.

“I think what we’re seeing right now is a normalization of hatred and bigotry and bias,” Cypers said.

In January, after a gunman took hostages in a Texas synagogue, Rabbi Will Berkovitz wrote an opinion piece in The Seattle Times calling attention to a rise in hatred against Jews.

“They seem to be attacking Jews for being Jews,” Berkovitz said.

In his article, Berkovitz wrote, “It is far too easy for critique of the Israeli government to be used as fodder for assaulting and intimidating Jews and defacing Jewish spaces.”

Days later, someone spray-painted a message that read, “It’s okay to be a Zionist genocider” near Jewish Family Service, the social service agency Berkovitz runs.

“If that happened for many other communities, you would see vigils, protests, people up in arms, and they should be,” Berkovitz said.

Too often, he said, people don’t recognize the economic and racial diversity of the Jewish community.

“We’re white as long as dominant society wants us to be white. And history has shown us for thousands of years that only goes so far, and then the Jews are no longer part of the community, the Jews are no longer part of the culture, they’re othered and victimized and scapegoated,” Berkovitz said.

After Samantha Tarlowe saw that hateful message from another student, the first meeting of the Jewish Student Union went on anyway.

The Tarlowe family is now advocating for more education, both about the Holocaust and how to combat new forms of hate.

The Issaquah School District told KIRO 7 high school students are taught about the Holocaust in history classes.

Before the pandemic, the district partnered with the Holocaust Center for Humanity to arrange speakers at some schools.