The number of antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts reached an all-time high in 2021, according to an annual report from the Anti-Defamation League. The stabbing of a rabbi in Brighton and the use of Holocaust-related terms by the Duxbury High School football team were among the examples that contributed to the 48 percent increase in incidents over the previous year.
Vandalism, harassment, and assaults all rose, with 108 occurrences recorded last year compared with 73 the year before, the report said.
Nationally, 2021 saw the highest number of antisemitic incidents since the ADL started tracking such data in 1979 — 2,717 incidents for a rise of 34 percent. In 2020, the national number stood at 2,026.
“The alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the region and across the country should be deeply concerning to all,” Robert Trestan, ADL New England regional director, said in a statement. “The numbers increased in nearly every category, including harassment and vandalism. The message that the data is sending is crystal clear: anti-Semitism remains a pervasive ill in our society that must be stemmed, or else we risk normalizing this hatred. ADL is steadfast in our commitment to disrupting and exposing antisemitism wherever it rears its ugly head and urges all to join us in this fight.”
Fifty-four cities and towns in Massachusetts saw at least one antisemitic incident in 2021, and Massachusetts had the seventh-highest number of incidents per state (108), following New York (416), New Jersey (370), California (367), Florida (190), Michigan (112), and Texas (112), according to the ADL, which works to stop discrimination against Jewish people.
Vandalism in Massachusetts rose by 66 percent (58 incidents compared with 35) and harassment increased by 26 percent (48 incidents compared with 38). Massachusetts recorded two assaults in 2021 after tallying none the year before, the ADL said.
Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight or nine times in the middle of the afternoon on July 1 outside the Shaloh House, a Jewish day school on Chestnut Hill Avenue. He survived. The suspect, later identified as 24-year-old Khaled A. Awad, was carrying what appeared to be a gun and briefly got into an armed standoff with police before surrendering, prosecutors said. He has been charged with hate crimes.
The ADL report also referenced a rock-throwing incident in Newton. It said a group of teens assaulted a young boy who was wearing a kippah, or yarmulke, while walking in the park.
During a March 12, 2021, season opener, the Duxbury Dragons high school football team used the words “rabbi,” “dreidel,” and “Auschwitz” when they made last-second calls at the line of scrimmage. Head coach Dave Maimaron was fired. The ADL provided anti-bias education and professional development to the school in the aftermath.
The ADL also offered support and advocated for accountability in Danvers after it was discovered that most of the high school’s 2019-20 hockey team’s players participated in a disturbing group text laced with deeply offensive racist, antisemitic, and homophobic words and images.
When a young, new generation spews hatred, it’s learned behavior from parents and role models, said Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna, a scholar of American Jewish History.
“Here we realized that one generation was basically miseducating another generation in hatred,” Sarna said.
“It’s very disturbing to see that happening,” he added. “In many ways, it is further evidence of a culture that is polarized and lacks tolerance.”
In New England, antisemitic incidents jumped 42 percent with 155 incidents. The ADL tracked 17 incidents in Rhode Island (up from 11) and 15 in Vermont (up from eight). New Hampshire and Maine saw slight drops, seven down from nine and six down from seven, respectively.
The majority of 2021 antisemitic incidents reported in New England were incidents of harassment (78), followed by incidents of vandalism (75). They occurred at Jewish institutions and schools, non-Jewish K-12 schools, college campuses, public areas, and homes, according to the report.
Nationally, there were 525 reported incidents at synagogues, Jewish community centers, and Jewish schools, an increase of 61 percent from 327 in 2020. Of the total, 413 were incidents of harassment, 101 were incidents of vandalism, and 11 were assaults. About one-quarter of the harassment incidents (111) were linked to anti-Zionist or anti-Israel sentiments.
ADL’s audit recorded 484 antisemitic incidents attributed to known extremist groups or individuals inspired by extremist ideology for 18 percent of the total number of incidents. White supremacist groups were responsible for 422 antisemitic propaganda distributions, a 41 percent increase.
“The core of all this is white supremacy,” said Jack McDevitt, director of Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice. It’s fueled by our leaders, legislation, and perceptions that Americans should be Christian and white, he said.
The hatred doesn’t stop at Jewish people, said McDevitt, who has been studying hate crimes for 30 years.
“One of the things that sort of is a myth that people have is that haters, that people who commit these crimes, only focus on one group,” McDevitt said. “That’s not the case.”
”We’re seeing increases every year nationally across the board in different categories of victims and have seen that for the past few years,” McDevitt said.
“We have to understand that all the victim groups stand together, and it’s not just one group being targeted,” McDevitt said. “It might be one group being targeted right now, today, but who’s going to come next?”