Antisemitism in Charlotte has increased since 2022. More education can slow the trend.
While antisemitic incidents are on the rise across North Carolina — with many cases seen in Charlotte — more education could slow this trend, a local Jewish organization said.
The Anti-Defamation League’s annual audit reported 39 antisemitic incidents across the state in 2022, up from 30 the previous year. This marked a 200% increase from the 13 incidents logged in 2020. The increase year-over-year was disturbing, said Tair Giudice, chief impact oficer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte.
“Unfortunately, in recent months the majority of the incidents we have received have happened in K-12 schools,” Giudice said. “Which is even more disturbing.”
There are around 15,000 Jewish residents out of 870,000 residents across Charlotte, according to Jewish Heritage North Carolina.
To date, the federation reported seven antisemitic incidents in K-12 Charlotte area schools during the 2022-23 school year. That’s an increase from four the previous school year, but half of the 14 incidents reported to the federation since last August.
A spokesperson for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools did not confirm the incidents but said “we will continue to ensure that our schools are secure and that our students and staff are protected.”
Incidents have ranged from swastikas being spray-painted to student bullying, Giudice said. Antisemitic incidents often are underreported. But it has heightened anxiety for Jewish youth, she said.
The pandemic, inflation and growing political divide has put the country in a time of turmoil, she said. Jewish people’s history has shown antisemitism grows as a society starts to unravel, Giudice said.
“That’s when the world’s oldest hate truly rears its ugly head,” she said.
Last year, the federation launched its Outshine Hate: Together Against Antisemitism initiative to combat antisemitism. Giudice said the name is intentional, with a goal to focus on the positive aspects in Jewish life.
“We want to encourage and promote Jewish pride so that members of our community do not feel they have to hide their identity,” she said.
This effort also delivers engagement to the greater Charlotte community. She said education is key to combating antisemitism.
“It’s not just a Jewish problem,” Giudice said. “It’s something our society as a whole needs to address and counter.”
‘The power of education’
A 2022 a survey of 4,000 Americans conducted by the ADL showed respondents who agreed with anti-Jewish tropes “knew significantly less” about Judaism and Jewish history. This included under-counting the number of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust and overestimating the American Jewish population, the survey said.
The report showed how preconceived notions come from a lack of understanding, said Judy LaPietra, assistant director of the Stan Greenspon Holocaust and Social Justice Education Center at Queens University.
“That speaks directly to the power of education,” LaPietra said.
The history of antisemitism has been one of peaks and valleys for Jewish people, she said. Jewish people flourished during a period of enlightenment in the 1800s in Europe. But that was followed by the rise of Nazi Germany.
LaPietra said the increase of antisemitism across the nation is concerning as educators in different states face limitations on how they teach history. But in North Carolina efforts are already underway to improve education on parts of Jewish history.
In 2021, the state legislature passed the Gizella Ambramson Holocaust Education Act. It now requires educators to teach about the holocaust beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
The center completed its first Holocaust educator cohort in March to help train educators on the subject, LaPietra said. Last week, it kicked off its student-to-student program, where Jewish high school students travel to other schools to share their experience.
“This can be how we begin to overcome this problem of accepting whoever we identify as the ‘other,’” LaPietra said.
‘We’re proud of who we are.’
Despite the increase in antisemitism, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte continues to celebrate Jewish culture and history. Last Sunday, the federation hosted its second annual Jewish Book Festival. The festival is a celebration of Jewish authors, books and ideas.
Sue Worrel, the federation’s CEO, said growing antisemtism is a serious situation, but it does not represent the sum total of Jewish people’s story.
“We’re strong, resilient and proud people,” she said. “We’re proud of who we are.”
Worrel said the broader Charlotte community has also been receptive to outreach efforts by the federation. Last year, businesses, nonprofit leaders and city officials all partook in outreach efforts by the federation.
Jewish people will do whatever it takes to continue to protect themselves, Worrell said. But more importantly, they want to share the kindness and warmth their culture has with the communities they live in, she said.