Jewish community speaks out about anti-Semitism amid push for hate crime legislation

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-  When lawmakers head back to the Statehouse Thursday, one topic shaping up to be controversial is hate crimes legislation.

While that plays out, some members of the Jewish community are speaking out about antisemitism the past year and efforts in 2019 to stop it.

Wednesday, there's no trace of the anti-Semitic graffiti once marking Congregation Shaarey Tefilla in Carmel.

"We're doing beautifully, it's almost as if nothing ever happened," Rabbi Benjamin Sendrow said.

Instead, what's left behind is an outpouring of love and support.

"Acts of hatred like the one perpetrated behind our building are failures because they try to instill fear and hatred, and they prompted an outpouring of love and support," Sendrow said.

In the final days of 2018, the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council penned a letter to the editor in the IndyStar talking about anti-Semitism confronting the community.

"We'll be looking to everybody to be involved in sort of pushing back on antisemitism in 2019," David Sklar, the assistant director for the Indianapolis JCRC, said. 

This past year, there were multiple instances of antisemitic graffiti found across the state. The JCRC said a study found nearly 30 percent of Jewish teens in central Indiana experienced some form of anti-Semitism in 2017.

In Pittsburgh, a gunman killed 11 people at a synagogue.

"A lot of angst, a lot of concern, a lot of hair up on the back of your neck. I mean it's very hard for members of the Jewish community," Sklar said.

Some members of the community are working on hate crimes legislation. Sklar said it's their top legislative goal.

"Hate crimes legislation is something that the Jewish community has been working on very heavily. I think the Carmel vandalism as well as the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh only reinforces the idea that unfortunately these types of incidents happen all the time and we need to make a statement as a state that we do not tolerate these," Sklar said.

Sklar said he feels there's a good chance the legislation will pass this year.

Governor Eric Holcomb has voiced support for hate crimes legislation.

"I don't think it's just the right thing to do I think it's overdue and I think we'll wake up after it's completed, the sun will come up and we'll have proof in our hands we are that welcoming state that we know we are," Governor Holcomb said.

Last week, Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray announced all bias crimes-related legislation would be assigned to the Senate Committee on Rules and Legislative Procedure.

"This does not mean these bills are dead by virtue of their assignment to this committee. My intention is to use the Rules committee to hold all proposals related to this issue until our caucus has had the opportunity to fully discuss each proposal and decide which aspects, if any, of the offered legislation have support to move forward," Sen. Bray said in a statement.

"I am unsure how this decision came about due to the nature of the bill which would normally place it in the Judiciary Committee. However, I encourage Sen. Bray to ensure that unlike many other bills that historically meet their end in this committee, bias crimes proposals wills in fact be given a hearing and be debated properly," Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane said in part in a statement in response.

The executive director of the American Family Association of Indiana said a hate crime law is not necessary.

"A hate crime law is not necessary because Indiana already has one in practice.  For more than a decade, Indiana judges have been able to enhance a sentence for any victim of a hate crime if they deem it helpful.   Rather than creating victim classifications that would inevitably leave some victims of such crime off, Indiana has the broadest hate crime penalty enhancement of almost any state in the nation.  Perhaps, that is why Indiana ranks in the bottom half of states for hate crime incident rates," executive director Micah Clark said.

The American Family Association has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 for the "propagation of known falsehoods" and the use of "demonizing propaganda" against LGBT people.

Back in Carmel, Rabbi Sendrow said they've dramatically increased security following the shooting in Pittsburgh. But looking to the future he has hope.

"Going forward I would like us to say in 20 years we did the right thing spending money on security, but thank God we never needed it," Rabbi Sendrow said. "That's what I would like."

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