The number of antisemitic incidents in the United States has surged to the highest level ever recorded, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks threats to the Jewish community.
The group recorded 298 antisemitic incidents in the Midwest alone in 2022— that is the highest number since the group began tracking in 1979.
Last year, at Jones College Prep, a student wore a Nazi-style uniform at a Halloween parade. In Park Ridge, extreme Right Wing propaganda and anti-Semitic messages were left on front lawns. In West Rogers Park, a Jewish man was assaulted in an attack police say was motivated by hate, and at the F.R.E.E. Synagogue Chicago, swastikas were spray-painted on the building.
“We were packing food at Bubby Fira’s food bank, which was a project we have to help the needy and the struggling individuals and families in the neighborhood,” Rabbi Levi Notik said. “And someone comes in and says, ‘Hey, there’s graffiti and a swastika on the actual building.’”
In a downtown Chicago office building, that act of vandalism and threats like it across North America were being tracked by a team of intelligence analysts, data experts and law enforcement veterans at the command center of the Secure Community Network. It is a non-profit that describes itself as “the official safety and security organization of the Jewish community in North America.”
Michael Masters is the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network.
“We are actively ingesting over 18,000 data feeds into our command center; into a proprietary stack of technology, we call Project RAIN — Realtime Actionable Intelligence Network,” he said. “So, every single day we’re looking at roughly 2500 to 3500 risk events across the country.”
Masters, a New Trier High School, University of Michigan and Harvard Law School graduate is a U.S. marine captain who oversaw public safety policy for Mayor Richard M. Daley and worked as the executive director of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for Cook County. He described the current moment as the “most complex and dynamic threat environment facing the Jewish community and our country in the history of the United States.”
It is such a pressing problem that Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced $20 million in state grants to synagogues and other religious institutions “deemed at high risk of a terrorist attack.”
Security experts say the increase in threats can be attributed partially to the role of social media in amplifying already high-profile voices like Kanye West and Kyrie Irving, both of whom shared antisemitic content with millions of their followers.
The secure community network doesn’t simply track threats, it prepares potential targets to deal with them – running security training programs at Jewish schools and synagogues.
‘We are working to build a proactive, protective shield over the Jewish community, across the United States,” Masters said. “We recognize that we are not going to control the time and place of the next incident, but we can control our preparation.”
Rabbi Notik said he appreciates the training and the diligence of the security professionals but said a critical component in the battle against hate is love.
“What’s really going to make a difference is those acts of goodness, unity with one another, caring for one another, being there for one another,” Notik said.