With reports of antisemitism on the rise, religious leaders gathered Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock to address the problem and to look for ways to counteract it together.
Nationwide, antisemitic incidents increased 36% last year, to 3,697, up from 2,717 in 2021, according to an Anti-Defamation League audit released last month. The audit can be found at adl.org/resources/report/audit-antisemitic-incidents-2022.
ADL researchers tallied 2,298 instances of anti-Jewish harassment, 1,288 instances of vandalism and 111 assaults nationwide in 2022.
Seven of the incidents were in Arkansas, including one act of vandalism and six instances of harassment.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which tracks hate crimes, tallied 1,590 religion-related incidents in 2021. Of those, 51.4% targeted Jews, 11.6% Sikhs, 9.6% Muslims, 6.1% Catholics and 3.1% Eastern Orthodox Christians.
Earlier this year, the city of Fayetteville removed antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas, from the Razorback Greenway trail.
"If we're going to build justice and equality and work to combat discrimination and hatred, we're going to have to do that together," Rabbi Barry Block of Congregation B'nai Israel in Little Rock told the gathering.
Roughly 65 community members attended the interfaith program, which was organized locally as part of the ADL's Kulanu Synagogues in Action Against Antisemitism initiative. "Kulanu" is Hebrew for "all of us."
Other speakers included Iman Mohammed Nawaz of the Madina Institute Center for Non-violence & Peace, Bethel A.M.E. Church Pastor Truman Tolefree and Marie Mainard O'Connell, interim director of adult education at Little Rock's Second Presbyterian Church.
The ADL says reports of antisemitic incidents rose 392% over the past decade, from 751 in 2013. After doubling between 2015 and 2017, the number of incidents remained relatively stable until 2021, when they began accelerating again.
Sunday, participants were given scenarios in which antisemitic speech or actions occurred and discussed the best way to respond. They also heard about the links between antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.
"We've seen the rise of antisemitism for an extended period of time," said Eugene Kruptisky, one of the event's organizers. "With the reporting jumping so dramatically, it's an issue that we have to address directly."
"We have a duty, we have an obligation, to speak out, when we see something wrong and it doesn't matter whether it's antisemitism or whether it's Islamophobia or whether it's homophobia," he said. "When leaders across the country don't speak out ... the reality is it's going to create an environment for more incidents of hate, and that's across the board."
Event sponsors included the temple, Little Rock's Congregation Agudath Achim and the Jewish Federation of Arkansas, in conjunction with the ADL, the Union of Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Cathedral Dean Amy Dafler Meaux welcomed the crowd, provided the opening prayer and participated throughout.
Afterward, Block portrayed the event as a success.
"It was amazing," he said.
"We had three very different presentations from those clergy, from all different experiences, and we all have so much to learn from one another," he said.