Last spring, Rabbi Lizz Goldstein of Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge encountered an unwanted guest at her virtual Torah study. The person made derogatory remarks about Goldstein being a female rabbi and played audio from a pornographic video until Goldstein booted the harasser from the room.
“It was just very uncomfortable,” Goldstein said. “It didn’t last very long, but it definitely shook me up.”
What Goldstein experienced was “Zoombombing,” the act of disrupting a virtual meeting or livestream. The incident contributed to 2020 being the highest year on record for anti-Semitic incidents in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Colombia, according to ADL’s 2020 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents released on April 27.
The national report documents anti-Semitic assaults, harassment and vandalism the ADL compiled from civilian and law enforcement reports.
Although the ADL found a 4 percent decline nationally between 2019 and 2020, the numbers rose sharply in Maryland, Virginia and Washington.
In 2020, the ADL recorded a 135 percent increase in Maryland, 75 percent increase in Virginia and 126 percent increase in Washington, D.C., in incidents from 2019. This marked the highest number of incidents recorded by the ADL in those jurisdictions, ever.
Meredith R. Weisel, the senior associate regional director at the ADL’s Washington office, called the numbers “concerning.” She said the ADL does not know what accounts for the sharp rise, while numbers nationally remained steady.
Still, the 2,024 anti-Semitic incidents documented in 2020 made it the third-highest year since the ADL started recording in 1979.
“As the country shifted to operating in a virtual world, we saw troubling increases in online hate and harassment,” said Doron F. Ezickson, ADL vice president of the Mid-Atlantic/Midwest Division, in a press release. “Anti-Semitic incidents were also motivated by the spread of COVID-19, the 2020 presidential election, and white supremacist propaganda distribution efforts.”
Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Maryland ranked 11th highest for anti-Semitic incidents reported in 2020. Virginia was the 10th highest and Washington, D.C., tied with Ohio for 13th highest.
In Maryland, there were 47 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, including 11 acts of vandalism, one assault and 35 cases of harassment.
In July 2020, a man harassed four Jewish teenagers outside Towson Town Center, grabbing one of the teens by his shirt and calling the group “dirty Jews.” The Maryland assault and vandalism numbers were on par with 2019, but harassment rose from 8 to 35 incidents, an increase of 338 percent.
There were 49 anti-Semitic incidents documented in Virginia, including 16 acts of vandalism and 33 cases of harassment. There were no assaults. Vandalism rose by a third and harassment doubled.
Washington had 43 anti-Semitic incidents in 2020, including 14 acts of vandalism and 27 cases of harassment. Vandalism rose by 133 percent and harassment by 108 percent. ADL recorded two assaults in Washington, D.C., in 2020, compared to none the year before.
In December, a counter-protestor at the Million MAGA March was physically assaulted and called a “f–king Jew.” The other assault happened in July. ADL listed that attack as “confidential.”
Nationally, schools, colleges and universities saw a drop in incidents in 2020. ADL recorded 161 incidents at non-Jewish elementary, middle and high schools, a decrease of 61 percent from the 411 incidents in 2019. There were 128 incidents recorded at colleges and universities, a decrease of 32 percent from 186 in 2019.
Weisel attributed the decrease to schools moving online. At the same time, virtual anti-Semitic incidents, like Zoombombing, rose.
In 2020, ADL recorded 196 incidents of anti-Semitic Zoombombs nationally, with 144 of those targeting Jewish institutions, including schools and synagogues. Eighteen of those Zoombombs occurred in Washington, D.C., Maryland or Virginia, with 12 targeting Jewish institutions.
In March, the ADL released a report that found white supremacist propaganda in the Washington area doubled in 2020. While some incidents overlap with the recent report, Weisel said the two differ in focus.
“That [report] was specifically on white supremacist propaganda. This [report] is an audit of anti-Semitic incidents, which includes everything from vandalism, harassment and assault,” she said. “So not totally different, but two different things.”
Some events appeared in both reports.
In August 2020, the ADL documented a Jewish wedding held on Zoom was interrupted by unknown individuals who yelled anti-Semitic and threatening messages like “Kill all the Jews,” “Kill the Jew bride,” “Send them back to Auschwitz” and “Heil Hitler.”
Last October, a synagogue in Fairfax had its Zoom prayer service disrupted by unknown participants who shouted profanities and used Nazi imagery as their user icons. They also wrote in the Zoom chat “F–k Jews,” “Heil Hitler,” “Long live Palestine” and “Free Palestinians.” That same month, teachers from a middle school in Washington, D.C., had their virtual staff meeting disrupted by an unknown participant who displayed a swastika on screen and said the N-word.
In November, a synagogue in Rockville had its Friday night prayer services disrupted by unknown participants who shared anti-Semitic messages and swastikas. And in December a Jewish woman, dressed in a Chanukah sweater, was verbally harassed in Bethesda by a passerby who yelled, “Hey Jewish” at her.
Weisel said ADL does not release the names of the synagogues and organizations for privacy.