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Columbia Jewish leaders use ‘Shine a Light’ campaign to spotlight rise in antisemitism

Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 7:53 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For the Jewish community, the eight days and nights of Hanukkah are about celebrating the miracle of light.

As it comes to a close this year, local Jewish leaders are shining that light on antisemitism.

According to Anti-Defamation League data, 2019 and 2020 totaled the highest number of reported antisemitic incidents across the U.S. That includes harassment, vandalism and assault. Jewish leaders in Columbia decided to participate in the ‘Shine a Light campaign’ in an effort to shine a light in the darkest of corners.

Shine a Light was a national initiative among Jewish and non-Jewish organizations during the week of Hanukkah, which ran from November 28th-December 6th 2021. It’s an effort to raise awareness about antisemitism through education, community partnerships, workplace engagement and advocacy.

“Imagine a situation … that every morning you see an email in your inbox…like, this and this happened in South Carolina… this person made some threats and some comments on social media,” said Columbia Jewish Federation Executive Director, Ana Sazonov.”[talking about] how he wants to hunt the Jews and kill the Jews.”

Sazonov said the federation has invested in security, which is why they get updated alerts to their email. It helps them keep an eye on threats and assess the risk. From what she’s seeing and hearing in her first 6 months in South Carolina, antisemitic incidents are occurring at an alarming rate.

“I don’t think it’s gotten quieter. I think it’s louder… way louder,” Sazonov said.

Data from the ADL in 2020 shows 2,024 reported antisemitic incidents across the U.S. While that’s a 4% decrease from the year prior, it’s still the third highest number in a decade. In fact, that marker has roughly doubled since the ADL began tracking the numbers. The incidents stem from places of worship to college campuses. The difficulty for many students, specifically, is calling out the “jokes” or implicit bias.

“I heard a lot of jokes about my ‘Jew horns’ or ‘Oh, here’s a coupon, you really want to know about this sale’… or ‘Where are you hiding all your gold’ … things like that,” recalled Columbia Jewish Federation Young Adult Division leader, Amy Weinstein.

Weinstein is a UofSC student who said she’s no stranger to antisemitic undercurrents. She said the tough part for young kids who are still growing into their identities is to call it out when they’re just trying to fit in.

“It’s confusing … you don’t know whether to laugh or be offended or honestly stand up and say hey this is wrong. It’s a hard thing to do in a situation when everyone around you is placating it,” Weinstein said.

According to the Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics report, in 2020 the most common form of anti-Jewish hate was vandalism or destruction of property followed closely by intimidation. In 2019, 60.3 % of religious hate crimes were anti-Jewish.

“We need to send a strong message that hate is not acceptable in South Carolina,” said Cheryl Nail, the Community Relations Director for the Columbia Jewish Federation.

Nail said a strong message begins with information. It’s why events across Columbia through the “Shine a Light” campaign during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah have quite literally brought light to the city.

From the annual menorah lighting on the second night, to a series of lantern walks in different parts of the city, the federation urged conversations and awareness. The hope is that by encouraging community members to learn about their Jewish neighbors and feel informed, they can help call out antisemitism when they see or hear it. Sazonov also hopes it inspires Jewish people in our community who may be quiet about their identities to speak up and be proud of their Jewish heritage.

“We need to change what we see right now… because the situation isn’t going to become any better if we are not going to act,” Sazonov said.

The federation is also working alongside the Community Relations Council to get hate crimes legislation through the South Carolina legislature. South Carolina is one of two states in the country without a hate crimes law on the books. While it’s been coined as a legislative priority over the years, it has never fully come to fruition.

“We really want to make sure that anybody and everybody is free in South Carolina to be who they are,” said Nail.

According to the FBI. in South Carolina there were 20 religious-based hate crimes in 2019. In 2020, there were 31. Preliminary data that the ADL has tracked shows a potential for a major uptick in antisemitic incidents both online and in-person due to the fighting between Hamas and Israel. Numbers may have also dipped in 2020 due to pandemic-related closures.

If you are a student at UofSC and feel that you have been a victim of a bias or hate incident, you can submit a form through the university’s website, here: Report an Incident - Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion | University of South Carolina (sc.edu)

According the website, the university will respond back within 72 hours.

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