“On Oct. 8, our interfaith partners showed up,” said Rabbi Peter Rigler of Temple Sholom in Broomall. “They asked how we were. And to be candid, I haven’t heard from most of them since.”

“A lot of the dialogue has become, ‘We love you, but this is hard now. That’s where it is. And I would say the same of a lot of our nonprofit partners in the community, people that we have done work with have said, ‘Now is not a great time for us.’ So, in general, I would say those interfaith relationships have changed dramatically.”

Rigler spoke to about 100 concerned Jews and other residents who came to the first Antidefamation League Main Line Community Action Group (MLCAG) meeting at the Willows in Radnor. The ADL assembled panels of religious leaders, law enforcement, educators and government officials to address the spike in antisemitic incidents in 2023, many occurring in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Pennsylvania ranked sixth in the U.S. for the most antisemitic episodes last year, including 51 bomb threats. There were 8,873 reports of assault, harassment, and vandalism around the country, the most in four decades. Since Oct. 7, there have been 5,204 antisemitic incidents in the U.S.

(From left) T/E Superintendent Richard Gusick, Radnor Superintendent Kenneth Batchelor and Rabbi Peter Rigler.

“We are at a moment in time where antisemitism has skyrocketed,” said Abbey Krain, ADL senior associate regional director. “How did we get here? And what can we do about it?”

“As of this moment, campuses and our Jewish students and faculty there continue to bear the brunt of antisemitic sentiment,” she said. ADL has put together a report card ranking various universities and colleges.

ADL Philadelphia Regional Director Andrew Goretsky said the idea for MLCAG came after co-chair Lisa Schreiber organized a “No Hate” rally of 300 people when swastikas appeared in Tredyffrin.

Rigler said that even as their partners in the faith community abandoned them, law enforcement has stepped up to fill the void, with extra patrols to ensure that the synagogue is safe for congregants to attend services.

Asked about hate crimes and hate incidents, Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said Pennsylvania’s statute covering hate crimes is called “ethnic intimidation” and requires a “predicate crime” like assault, arson, or harassment first before it can be charged. A separate institutional vandalism law protects schools and houses of worship.

Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan said bomb threats, which are often made through disguised IP addresses, are a concern. They’ve asked the FBI and the district attorney’s office to help investigate.

“We take it very seriously,” said Flanagan. They also work with other departments and share information. “It is a partnership on all of these incidents.”

(From left) Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer, Radnor Police Superintendent Chris Flanagan, Narberth Police Chief John String and Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Michael Beaty.

“We partner and communicate,” agreed Tredyffrin Police Superintendent Michael Beaty. He asked people to “work with us, to be involved.” And also he suggested they get to know their local police officers. “We need your help,” he said.

Narberth Police Chief John String said in his borough, Nana’s Kitchen was vandalized. They rely on community members to help identify vandals. In nearby Wynnewood, Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El was vandalized last month.

Flanagan added, “If you have an incident, with all the hurt that goes along with it, please preserve the evidence. If it’s washed off, we lose DNA, fingerprints. As hard as it is to see it, please wait for the police to get there.”

A few weeks after she was sworn in in 2020, “I had my first death threat. That was from being Jewish,” said Chester County Commissioner Marian Moskowitz.

“I grew up with it where I lived, in Kensington,” she said. “Various times in my life—but the heaviness that sits on all of us at the moment is the most difficult thing I’ve ever seen.”

“I think we need to communicate more with our young people so they understand what it is Jewish people have been going through because they have no clue,” said Moskowitz. “People don’t know how to talk about this and if we don’t allow them to talk about it, we being the Jewish community, there’s never going to be any understanding.”

State Rep. Lisa Borowski (D-Newtown Square) said she’s hearing from people who are “scared and concerned for their loved ones.” There is legislation that’s passed the House and is waiting in the Senate to increase penalties for hate crimes. Other legislation addresses antisemitism and teaching about the Holocaust. Randi Boyette, ADL director of education, said the ADL is advocating for legislation to mandate that students learn about the Holocaust.

During the question-and-answer period, some parents said they were concerned their kids’ classmates were not learning about the Holocaust in school. Both Tredyffrin/Easttown Superintendent Richard Gusick and Radnor Superintendent Kenneth Batchelor said their districts have Holocaust education as part of the curriculum.

Delaware County Council Member Elaine Schaefer said the council had passed a resolution after “some highly disturbing incidents.”

“A resolution is not law. It’s just a piece of paper. As leaders of this community of 500,000 people, it is important to be clear: It is wrong, and we should reject it at all levels.”

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