(FOX59/CBS4) — The name Robert Bowers will be in the headlines once again.
Bowers is the man accused of storming into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in October of 2018 and killing 11 people and injuring 6 others. It’s considered the worst mass killing of Jews in US history.
Bowers is part of a worrisome trend in Indiana and around the country that has caught the attention of some prominent Hoosiers who are saying enough is enough.
The Anti-Defamation League recently conducted an audit of antisemitic incidents in the United
States. The study showed there was a 36% rise in harassment, vandalism and assaults targeting Jewish people from 2021 to 2022.
There were 2717 incidents in 2021 and nearly 3700 incidents in 2022. That’s the highest number since 1979.
Indiana is part of that trend. The ADL reports antisemitic incidents in the Hoosier state rose 106% from 2021 to 2022. There were 16 incidents two years ago and 33 in 2022.
Rabbi Sue Silberberg, the executive director of IU Hillel and founder of Bloomington United, said she has witnessed the change.
“We had a big increase last year, a number of antisemitic incidences last year,” she said.
Rabbi Silberberg is talking about a case of vandalism on the IU campus in 2022 where mezuzahs, a symbol displayed outside Jewish students’ rooms, were ripped from doorways. Rabbi Sue decided to take on the vandals in a unique way and had the blessing of IU President Pamela Whitten.
“What we did was we started the red mezuzahs project,” the Rabbi said. “Red because of IU and crimson. And we painted mezuzahs red and put a sticker that said ‘I stand with my Jewish friends’,” said Rabbi Silberberg. “We handed out over 1,000 mezuzahs. It was really effective.”
In Indianapolis, hate groups have held a rally in the downtown area. In Carmel, a synagogue was spray painted with a Nazi symbol and an undetonated explosive was found there as well.
These kinds of attacks have not gone unnoticed. One woman from a prominent Indianapolis family has taken up the cause.
Rachel Simon is buying and putting up billboards. The first was in Fountain Square and the second can be found along I-465 on the west side.
“We have to be loud and make our case,” said Simon. “And be clear that Indianapolis is not a place that will tolerate this, despite the hate groups that marched down around the Circle.”
Her billboards simply state: “Indy is no place for Jew hate”. The billboards also urge viewers to take action steps.
“The first one is simply to educate yourself and others,” Simon said. “What is antisemitism? How does it function? It morphs throughout time. It’s not just religious hate. It’s hate, mostly through conspiracy theories. The second point is: don’t perpetuate the hate. Right now social media and college campuses are breeding grounds for this. Number three is just speaking up. Use your voice. The fourth is to build community, build bridges, and reach out to the Jewish community if you have questions. The fifth is to take action and report any antisemitic incidents.”
Part of the story on the billboards included some interviews with a number of people on a recent Friday evening. We wanted to know how familiar visitors to the city are with important historical events.
So, we simply asked, “When I say the word holocaust or Auschwitz, what does that mean?”
Several people were very familiar and recited the importance of those events.
Others, however, were not so familiar. This included a young man, who shouted out, “You know who I say is the best? Hitler.”
Megan Maurer, a member of the Jewish community in central Indiana, was asked to view that interchange and respond. This is what she told us.
“I’m disheartened. I’m not surprised,” she said. “It makes me sad, it makes me think about my kids and things that have happened to them. Antisemitism, it begins with Jews, but it never ends with Jews. This type of insensitivity, it knows no boundaries. Antisemitism is a conspiracy theory and it is one that is able to be spread at lightning speed in our world today. We have a lot of work to do and I think our children are going to have a lot of work to do. I think it’s a warning to all of us.”
Rachel Simon’s billboard campaign is centered, for now, in the central Indiana area. She has not said when or where her next billboard will pop up.
Robert Kraft, the owner of the NFL’s New England Patriots, is backing a different project called the Blue Square. It’s intended to push back on antisemitism as well.