Significant increase in hate crimes causes fear in Florida’s Jewish community

After a 40% rise in antisemitic hate crimes in Florida, many temples and Jewish organizations have implemented higher levels of security and community outreach initiatives to protect themselves. 

According to the Anti Defamation League (ADL) of Florida, there have been dozens of verified antisemitic incidents in the last year. Numbers have increased recently following the conflict between Hamas and Israel, which resulted in scores of deaths.

Among these incidents were two at the Chabad of South Broward in Hallandale Beach. The most recent involved a man who left human feces out front, spat on a menorah and shouted “Jews should die.”  Earlier last month, someone through rocks at a member of the congregation. 

Back in May 21 in Bal Harbour, a family was targeted by a group of men in an SUV shouting “free Palestine,” and “die Jew,” said Lonny Wilk, a senior associate regional director for ADL.

“Jewish Americans are held responsible, right or wrong, for Israel policies,” says Wilk.

Jonathan Casaverde is a member of Temple Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus. They say their parents advise them to hide their jewelry with identifiably Jewish symbols. But that doesn’t mean they support everything that Israel does.

“There is a difference between a Jew and a Zionist,” explains Casaverde. “Israel is the homeland, but as a Jew who believes in love and acceptance for all… the state of Israel cannot continue to commit the atrocities they commit and get away with it.”

Rabbi Eliot Pearlson from the Temple Menorah in Miami Beach attributes this spike in cases to South Florida being home to the third-largest Jewish population in America. The great number of Jewish people makes them more visible and thus more vulnerable to antisemitic attacks. 

To combat hate crimes, temples and organizations have begun initiatives to protect the Jewish community of South Florida.

“We have increased the hours and… number of guards as well as renovated and updated camera security systems,” says Rabbi Pearlson. “[We have] even held emergency response exercises with police training sessions in our synagogue.”

In addition to investing in more security, Temple Menorah has been working on outreach events such as the “community rally against hate at the Holocaust Memorial in conjunction with the greater Miami Jewish Federation” earlier this month, Pearlson added.

“The real education needs to begin in earnest at public schools and at those mosques that do not speak out against hate and calls for violence”, he states.

The ADL also places a heavy emphasis on educating communities as much as possible by providing educational materials on how to talk to children when they encounter anti-semitism as well as how to flag and report incidents. 

Florida isn’t the only place witnessing this– incidents are occurring nationally as well.

The ADL reported a 75% increase in antisemitic behavior, incidents and hate crimes throughout the United States following the two weeks of military conflict between Israel and Hamas in May.

“It’s happening around the world– from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like NYC and in small towns, and across every social media platform,” stated Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO in a May 2021 press release. 

Hashtags such as “Hitler was right” have been used as many as 17,000 times in the past month on Twitter.

“We are looking to leaders, governments leaders, companies, etc., to speak up strongly and treat this like their issue as well,” states Wilk, “Bigotry against any of us is bigotry towards all of us.”

Jazmine Santillana is a junior majoring in journalism. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a career in digital journalism.

Juliana Narvaez is a junior majoring in journalism and English literature with a minor in psychology. After her studies, she wishes to pursue a writing career with a focus on mental health and victimization advocacy.