"Not in our United States"; Jewish community reacts to anti-Semitism

6 months 3 weeks 16 hours ago Wednesday, March 01 2017 Mar 1, 2017 Wednesday, March 01, 2017 2:47:00 PM CST March 01, 2017 in News
By: Emily McCarter; KOMU 8 Reporter
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COLUMBIA- Columbia's Jewish community feels "concerned" and "saddened" after recent vandalism to a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis left more than 100 headstones damaged. This coincides with multiple bomb threats and a local incident in which two students were accused of harassing a Jewish community member with anti-Semitic messages.

According to the Jewish Community Center Association, there have been at least 100 incidents of bomb threats made against Jewish community centers and schools this year.

"All it takes is one individual with wicked intentions," Congregation Beth Shalom Rabbi Yossi Feintuch said. 

Congregation Beth Shalom is a reform Jewish synagogue in Columbia. Feintuch said some of its members were scared after someone attacked Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a St. Louis suburb. The vandal or vandals toppled dozens of headstones over the weekend of Feb. 17.

"There were a few members here who were concerned that such a violent attack on a Jewish cemetery might spill over and target also the Jewish section in the Columbia cemetery," Feintuch said.

A Beth Shalom board member contacted a local cemetery to see if anything was "out of the ordinary". The cemetery staff assured the board member nothing was damaged.

Despite worry, Feintuch said, he believes an incident like this won't occur in Columbia because of the outpouring of support at the St. Louis cemetery's cleanup.

"The very presence of Vice President Pence and Governor Greitens accompanied by hundreds of people," Feintuch said, "Amongst them not only Jews, but Christians and I'm told other religions, say Muslims as well, who gathered together to say 'Not in our state. Not in our United States'."

Mizzou Hillel is a Jewish organization on MU's campus. Jeanne Snodgrass, the executive director, said threats of violence is an ongoing issue.

"It just brings home how important it is to continue doing the work that gets done as far as education to the community," Snodgrass said.

She said the problem reaches far beyond the Jewish community.

"It's not just about Jews and Jewish groups but also about other minority groups and anyone that might be perceived as 'other'," she said. "A lot of it stems from ignorance and sometimes hate towards a broader range of groups."

Snodgrass said Mizzou Hillel takes the appropriate safety precautions when it comes to protecting its students and has not been the target of any violence or threats.

David Posner, director of strategic performance at Jewish Community Center Association of North America, said in a statement, “Actions speak louder than words. Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities."

Because of the national hate crimes, Feintuch said, Congregation Beth Shalom sometimes increases security. He said the congregation has to always be alert when gathering in large numbers.

Congregation President Dan Edidin sent KOMU 8 News the following statement.

"We certainly are disturbed and saddened by the vandalism of Jewish graves in St Louis. As Jews, we live with a history of persecution and are extremely sensitive to attacks on people of any faith. Fortunately, here in Columbia our small Jewish community has not been the target of any threats or violence."

Feintuch said Congregation Beth Shalom has not experienced any anti-Semitic incidents, but he encouraged people to continue to support one another.

"All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing about it," Feintuch said.

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