The image was shocking — anti-Semitic graffiti saying, “Kill the Jews,” spray-painted on the Beverly Hills sign in California and attributed to “Antifa.” It went viral via social media.
The only problem was that it was fake. There was graffiti, but it was Photoshopped to turn the message anti-Semitic.
“We want to make sure that we’re able to understand the nature of threats quickly, whether they’re real or faked, and get that information out to the Jewish community so they can feel safe,” says Shawn Brokos, director of Jewish community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “Fortunately, we have a rapid reaction force to help Jewish communities where misinformation about anti-Semitism may surface, quickly enough for them to do damage control.”
The Jewish Federation — which has been on high alert since the 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue building — is working closely with Jewish Federations around the U.S. and Canada to address the expanding volume of misinformation spreading in advance of the election in November. Brokos works with Jewish Federations of North America’s national group called the Secure Community Network, that specializes in this work.
“It’s critical now more than ever to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. During a time when lots of misinformation exists on social media across the political spectrum, it’s even more important not to jump to conclusions when we see reports of anti-Semitism in Pittsburgh or around our region.”David Sufrin, chair of the Jewish Federation’s board of directors
“The unfortunate truth is that sometimes these incidents are real,” says Jeffrey Finkelstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation. “That’s why we have an excellent relationship with law enforcement and the ability to share information rapidly across the Jewish community to keep Jewish agencies and synagogues secure.”
This isn’t an isolated incident. Recently, Antifa was blamed for putting up barriers in front of a synagogue, Chabad of Sherman Oaks; another report called the security barriers “weapons placed by Antifa and professional anarchists.” Chabad of Sherman Oaks had actually installed the barriers themselves.
“We know that there is fake information being promulgated by people on the right and the left, not to mention fake information put out by foreign governments trying to intervene in the United States’ election. We know from the recent, bipartisan U.S. Senate report that China and Russia are actively using social media to try to interfere. As horrible as it is for them to use something like anti-Semitism to do that, it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” said Brokos.
There are simple things that the Jewish community members can do to help.
“It can be as simple as getting the message out to their Jewish community that there is fake information about anti-Semitism circulating,” says Brokos. “If you see something, say something, for certain. But you should also not just assume right away that it’s real.”
People can report potentially anti-Semitic information or incidents at jewishpgh.org/security, or by contacting the Jewish Federation by phone at 412-681-8000. If anyone feels threatened, they should call 911. The City of Pittsburgh also recently upgraded 311, a non-emergency phone number for problems such as graffiti. Non-Pittsburgh residents can reach “311” operators by calling 412-255-2621.
“We don’t want people to ignore reports of anti-Semitic incidents,” says Adam Hertzman, director of communications for the Jewish Federation. “On the contrary, it’s important to report things like this. But it’s also important for the Jewish community to know that, especially at a time of political turmoil, they shouldn’t believe everything they see on social media.”
This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, notes Hertzman.
“There aren’t a lot of divisions in the United States when it comes to racism, bigotry and hatred,” says Hertzman. “After the Oct. 27 attacks on the three synagogues in Pittsburgh, we all saw how the city of Pittsburgh, and the U.S., and the world came together to condemn this act. Where it becomes divisive is where it’s attributed to someone with one particular political ideology.”
The law enforcement community works very closely with Jewish security efforts.
“This is about keeping the Jewish community secure and making people feel safe,” says Brokos. “The reason someone would create a fake image or fake story or fake video is to instill fear, doubt, and unrest. Staying vigilant, mindful and accurately informed is the way to combat that.”
Nine Pittsburgh Organizations Receive $3.86 Million for Cost Related to Anti-Semitic Attack of Oct. 27, 2018
Nine Pittsburgh area organizations received just over $3.86 million from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime through the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP). The funding will reimburse the organizations for costs resulting from the anti-Semitic attack on three Jewish congregations on Oct. 27, 2018.
The organizations receiving funds include the 10.27 Healing Partnership, the Rauh Jewish Archives, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, Jewish Family and Community Services, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and the Center for Victims as well as the three congregations attacked: Congregation Dor Hadash, New Light Congregation and Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha Congregation.
Funding will ensure that Pittsburgh’s resiliency center, called the 10.27 Healing Partnership, will continue to serve all people in Pittsburgh affected by the attack.
“After Oct. 27, 2018, we were founded to be a resource for people who are dealing with grief and other emotions as a result of hate-induced violence, and for the larger community in its ongoing response to violence and more specifically to the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building,” said Maggie Feinstein, Director of the 10.27 Healing Partnership. “This funding is instrumental in being able to fulfill this mission and continue working with our incredible partners in the community and we are humbled to work with so many wonderful community partners.”
The Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Senator John Heinz History Center also received money to archive and digitize items of support sent from around the world. They will be creating a website showcasing the thousands of letters and memorial objects created as gestures of hope and healing in the months since Oct. 27, 2018. An essential component of this project will be collaborating closely with many different stakeholders throughout the community to ensure that this work proceeds with care and sensitivity. The website will be a living entity, growing over time as new materials become appropriate for public viewing.
“These beautiful objects are a remarkable record of the many ways people all over the world responded to that terrible act on Oct. 27, 2018,” said Eric Lidji, Director of the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives. “These objects are filled with humanity — grief, love, heartache, friendship, pain, and hope. We are so grateful for the opportunity to preserve and share these objects, and we hope that this project will help people in their ongoing effort to heal.”
In recent decades, memorial objects such as these have become an essential component of the communal grieving process following public tragedies. This is believed to be the first time AEAP funds have been directed toward an archival project involving such objects.
The three congregations that were attacked on Oct. 27, 2018, will also receive funds.
“We are grateful for the support from the Federal government that will assist us in our continuing recovery as a congregation and a community,” says Suzanne Schreiber, Tree of Life * Or L’Simcha past president and congregational representative to the Long Term Planning and Assistance Committee.
“We are grateful to the Federal government and the Pennsylvania Office of the Victim Advocate for their assistance in helping in the recovery of our families and our congregation following the horrific shooting on Oct. 27, 2018,” said Stephen Cohen, president of New Light Congregation. “The timing of the approval, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, is emblematic of the ongoing and continuous efforts of the Federal Government to help alleviate suffering and pave a path forward for us all. We especially want to thank those in the U.S. Department of Justice and their consultants without whose assistance this grant would not be possible.”
“Dor Hadash deeply appreciates the support made available through the Antiterrorism and Emergency Assistance Program (AEAP),” says Donna Coufal, president of Congregation Dor Hadash. “We will use these funds to help defray costs incurred as a result of the events of Oct. 27, 2018.”
Organizations that help both the Jewish community at large and people outside the Jewish community will also receive funding.
“Our community was devastated by the synagogue shooting less than two years ago. With the support of the AEAP grant from the Federal government, JFCS works to continue to help the community heal today, tomorrow and in the months and years ahead. Recovery from trauma is a long process, and our trauma therapists and case managers, funded by this grant, will continue helping grieving families and community members receive the professional support that they need — free of charge. We are so grateful that the government’s Office for Victims of Crime is making this funding available to us.”Dr. Jordan Golin, President & CEO of Jewish Family and Community Services
“We were honored to help coordinate the one-year commemoration of our city’s solidarity against this terrible, anti-Semitic attack,” says Jeffrey Finkelstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. “Reimbursement of expenses we incurred in the aftermath of the attack will enable us to continue to help Jewish Pittsburgh heal and will free up critical funds for people in need.”
The Center for Victims, an advocacy and counseling organization that serves all victims and their loved ones in Pittsburgh, received reimbursement for the many services they provided and continue to provide to people affected by the Oct. 27 attack.
“Center for Victims is proud to play even a small role in providing support to facilitate healing and helping to restore the rich history of our Pittsburgh Jewish community that was devastated by this senseless act of violence,” says Laurie MacDonald, President and CEO of the Center for Victims.
The Organization of Chinese Americans (OCA) Pittsburgh Chapter and the Community Relations Council (CRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and anti-Asian racism that blames Jewish and/or Asian people for the spread of COVID-19 in our region.
“Going back as early as mid-January, well before coronavirus spread throughout the United States in large numbers, Asians and Asian Americans — our families and our businesses in Pittsburgh and beyond — have seen a significant increase in hate directed toward our community,” said Marian Lien, president of OCA Pittsburgh.
“Asian restaurant workers are being harassed after finishing up their shifts. White supremacists have shouted ‘white power’ at us, and still others tell us we don’t belong. In the last several days, a Pittsburgh city sign in Squirrel Hill was vandalized by a bigot who placed a homemade ‘Nuke China’ sticker on the pole. Many in our community are terrified and intimidated, and we have done nothing to deserve such hatred.”Marian Lien, president of OCA Pittsburgh
Additionally, the Jewish community has been targeted by anti-Semites, particularly white supremacists who blame Jewish people for coronavirus. These supremacists claim that the virus was created by Jews in order to profit from it and/or to benefit from population control. The FBI has investigated reports of white supremacists seeking to weaponize the virus by spreading it to Jewish institutions, although the FBI has found no evidence of physical attempts to do so in the Pittsburgh area.
“In Southwestern PA white supremacists are ‘Zoom bombing’ virtual meetings at various Jewish institutions,” said Bob Silverman, chair of the CRC. Zoom bombing is a newly coined term for when unwelcome guests hack into online meetings and display hate-group symbols, pornography or other extreme images, in an effort to disrupt and intimidate. “What’s more, hackers have attempted cyberattacks on a number of our organizations, either for financial gain or with the intent to cause harm to our community.”
The Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh and the Organization of Chinese Americans Pittsburgh Chapter, representing the two largest minority communities in Squirrel Hill, stand in solidarity with each other against the unfounded hate directed toward both communities in the wake of the pandemic. We recognize the profound impact that COVID-19 has had on all marginalized communities and that Pittsburgh is at its best when it is a welcoming place for all. We encourage all Pittsburghers, no matter their race or religion, to persevere and stay safe as we traverse these trying times together.