Jewish community speaks out against antisemitism at W. Bloomfield Twp. rally

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

West Bloomfield Township, Mich. — Carolyn Normandin, regional director of the Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, said she often receives calls from Jewish people across the state who have experienced antisemitism.

Recent incidents, Normandin said, include children being harassed while walking to school in Oakland County and a family threatened on their porch.

“I can tell you that every single person that calls me is calling me because they’re frightened, they’re unhappy, they feel indignant at being attacked,” said Normandin, who declined to give details of the incidents to protect the callers.

“They don’t understand. They’re confused. It’s the same kind of feelings that other people that are attacked feel and that’s not a good feeling.”

Normandin was among nearly 200 people who gathered Sunday for a Stand Up To Antisemitism Rally on Orchard Lake Road near Northwestern Highway in West Bloomfield Township.

The rally was in response to what local leaders say is a spike in antisemitic attacks across the United States. It also comes as Ann Arbor Police confirmed this weekend that antisemitic language was found on a large rock in a park near the University of Michigan.

“For me this is all about understanding we cannot tolerate hate against anyone at any time,” Normandin said. “Antisemitism is not always taken seriously, and that’s a problem because we have freedom of religion in this country and those laws are taken very seriously.

"Freedom to express your religion and the way you express your religious, whether you’re wearing a head covering or a necklace or a T-shirt or have a flag on your porch. That’s an expression of who you are and what you are. That is really important to people to protect.”

Nearly 200 people gathered Sunday for a Stand Up to Antisemitism Rally on Orchard Lake Road near Northwestern Highway in West Bloomfield Township.

During the peaceful rally, many held signs with messages that said “Stop Jew Hate,” “Proud to be Jewish,” “I stand up against Anti-Semitism” and “No one should live in fear.”

“In the face of antisemitism, the worst thing we can do is stay silent,” said Kobi Erez, executive director for Zionist Organization of America, one of the organizations that hosted the event. “We are here. We are proud to be Jewish. We are proud of our non-Jewish allies who showed up to support us today. We stand up against hate toward any group. We are standing up against hate against the Jewish people.”

Kobi Erez, executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, during an antisemitism rally along Orchard Lake Road in West Bloomfield Township.

In addition to ZOA Michigan, the event was hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee, Michigan chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah and Michigan chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Jewish leaders say antisemitic incidents are on the rise since the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza, and have led to assaults of American Jews in New York City and Los Angeles and the targeting of synagogues in Florida, Illinois and Arizona.

Kathy Kubik, carrying a sign that says "Stop Jew Hatred," shows her support for Israel.

Ann Arbor Police said Sunday that antisemitic language was found on a large rock at the corner of Washtenaw Avenue and Hill Street. They declined to say if the incident was under investigation. In a video clip posted by “stop_antisemitism” on Instagram, the messages on the rock read “Boycott Israel” and “(Expletive) Israel.”

The large rock, in a small park near the University of Michigan, was painted over Saturday, said UM spokesman Rick Fitzgerald.

“U-M denounces all vulgar and hateful messages, both on or near campus, such as 'the rock' along Washtenaw Avenue,” he said in a statement. “We offer our thanks to those members of the community who stepped up to add more speech by repainting the rock.”

During the rally,  Sheldon Freilich, president of ZOA, said blaming a Jew in America for a governmental policy of Israel is bigotry.

During the peaceful rally many held signs with messages that read “Stop Jew Hate,” “Proud to be Jewish,” “I stand up against Anti-Semitism” and “No one should live in fear.”

The rally itself was not meant to be tied to the conflict and focused solely on antisemitism, leaders say.

“No one can justify antisemitism,” said Seth Gould, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC.

“It’s OK to disagree on ideology and politics. It is legitimate to oppose actions overseas. We can disagree with passion and with purpose. Not all of us see life the same way. The organizations that are here today have fundamental disagreements, but today we stand united.

"It is never OK to discriminate against someone because of their religion, ethnicity, race or background. It is not OK to violate a Jewish place of worship, or a Jewish-owned restaurant, or a person who wears a kippah or a Jewish star.”

According to the 2019 FBI Hate Crime Statistics report, the latest data available, anti-Jewish bias accounted for 60.2% of anti-religious hate crimes. Some believe these incidents to be higher due to municipalities that do not report their numbers to the FBI.

Barbara Anbender of Birmingham said she came out to the rally to speak out against discrimination.

“All humans are the same,” she said. “Why are they different than me? They’re human inside.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN