Montgomery County, Jewish leaders address concerns about hate

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. Photo by Photo by betterDCregion/ Wikimedia Commons

When flyers with Nazi, white supremacist and antisemitic messages were posted near the heavily Jewish Kemp Mill shopping center in Silver Spring last month, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich promised to meet with the Kemp Mill community to talk about hate.

On July 6, Elrich was at that meeting, via Zoom, along with a number of government officials and Jewish organization representatives.

“People are scared,” Elrich said. “These flyers and graffiti used to be anonymous, but now use websites and names of hate groups and include an element of violence,” Elrich said. “I find it very concerning,” he said, adding, “You realize it is really wearing on people.”

Council President Gabe Albornoz condemned the violence and hate messaging focused at any group or religion and praised the county and faith leaders who immediately stand together when one group is attacked.

Montgomery County has distributed $800,000 this year in addition to $700,000 dollars the prior year to area houses of worship and non-profit organizations to purchase security cameras and other equipment, Elrich said.

There was not any surveillance camera footage where the three flyers were posted in Kemp Mill, according to Meredith Weisel, Washington regional director of the ADL.

It is important to report all incidents to the police, including a damaged mezuzah or a flyer left on the driveway, even if it doesn’t seem worth reporting, Weisel said, adding that ADL looks for patterns and keeps track of the groups that conduct these incidents.

“It’s deeply disturbing what we are seeing. We need to figure what the patterns are,” she said.

At the Montgomery County Council’s July 12 meeting, Councilmember Andrew Friedson was expected to introduce a resolution to define and address antisemitism.

“We lean on each other during these incredibly difficult and trying times. It’s reaffirming to know that at least in Montgomery County we stand united,” Albornoz said. “As horrible as things are, and they are horrible, there is so much more good in the world.”

Kate Chance, the county’s faith community liaison, praised faith leaders and other residents who immediately step up to remove graffiti, hold vigils and come together during painful hate incidents.

“Our faith leaders are all of one mind, that we all should be respected,” Elrich said.

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones urged residents to call the non-emergency police number whenever they see a hate flyer, graffiti or incidents of bias. “You all are the eyes and the ears of the community,” he said. “We take race bias incidents, hate crimes, very seriously across the board.”

He pointed out that the county shares information with state and federal law enforcement agencies and other partners to keep abreast on incidents of hate and violence throughout the world.

“There is no room for hate anywhere in the community, said Erica Biegen, ADL assistant regional director.

Added Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, “Montgomery County is not an island that is immune to these threats. Any kind of bigotry is equally disgusting and reprehensible, and we won’t stand for it,” he stressed.

Nationally, antisemitic incidents tracked in ADL’s 2021 audit reached an all-time high of 2,717 during 2021, which is an average of more than seven incidents each day. It marks a 34% increase as compared to 2020.

ADL was able to determine the group that distributed the flyers in Garrett Park. However, Weisel noted, “Anyone of us can go to their website and just print out a flyer,” so it may not have come from someone attached to the group.

“It’s deeply disturbing what we are seeing,” she said. “We know this has a ripple effect throughout every community.”

Speakers at the webinar offered suggestions on how best to deal with the rise in antisemitism. Halber suggested that residents ostracize those who hate. Chance urged everyone to support their own houses of worship by attending security trainings and to also tweet about hate incidents so that word gets out.

Montgomery County has a Committee Against Hate and Violence that promotes educational activities that showcase the positive values of ethnic and religious groups and advises county officials about any hate incidents throughout the county.

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