Cases of antisemitic hate reach historic levels across U.S., Illinois, new report finds

“When you think about the trends that we’re seeing right now, and that we have for a number of years, we’re clearly operating in an environment where Jews are being targeted,” said David Goldenberg of the Anti-Defamation League.

SHARE Cases of antisemitic hate reach historic levels across U.S., Illinois, new report finds

F.R.E.E. Synagogue located, at 2935 West Devon Ave. in West Rogers Park, was hit with antisemitic graffiti this year.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Cases of antisemitic hate rose to historic levels last year both in Illinois and across the country, according to an audit released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

The total number of antisemitic incidents involving assault, harassment and vandalism jumped to 2,717 in 2021, a 34% increase from the previous year and the highest number recorded since the ADL began tracking such incidents in 1979. Although Illinois’ 15% increase was less pronounced, the state’s 53 documented instances also marked the highest total in recent history.

“When you think about the trends that we’re seeing right now, and that we have for a number of years, we’re clearly operating in an environment where Jews are being targeted,” said David Goldenberg, the ADL’s midwest regional director.

Nationally, the incidents have spiked 114% since 2016 and 430% locally. The data includes incidents that specifically target Jews or Jewish institutions; a swastika drawn on a random building, for example, wouldn’t be included in the ADL’s numbers.

Jews “are more concerned and feel more unsafe than they have in decades,” he said.

Goldenberg said the violence that erupted last May between Israel and Palestine led to “a significant surge” in antisemitism nationwide, though he noted there were no other clear catalysts for the “dramatic increase” throughout the year. No one was killed in any of the 88 nationwide assaults, the audit found. 

Meanwhile, Goldenberg said college campuses have increasingly become hotbeds for white supremacist and antisemitic flyering campaigns, including at the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana. The audit also revealed a 21% increase in antisemitic harassment on campuses, and Goldenberg said there’s been a “steady uptick” at Urbana-Champaign, as well as at the University of Illinois-Chicago and the University of Chicago.

Those three Illinois campuses, along with DePaul University, have also seen “anti-Israel” demonstrations “quickly turn into antisemitic activities,” Goldenberg said.

While only two of the incidents in Illinois last year were carried out by known extremists, 14 targeted Jewish institutions and eight involved references to Israel or Zionism. This year, Goldenberg said the antisemitic trends that have played out in Illinois and beyond are “just as concerning.”

In the most high-profile case, the West Rogers Park Jewish community was left reeling in January when 39-year-old Shahid Hussain allegedly spray-painted swastikas on a synagogue and the grounds of Jewish high school, smashed windows at two other synagogues and made threatening gestures during a two-day spree.

Hussain, of Niles, was arrested Jan. 30 and has since pleaded not guilty to a litany of felony charges, court records show.

Cook County Judge Barbara Dawkins didn’t mince words at his initial court hearing, saying the allegations amounted to “a textbook case of a hate crime,” referencing the most serious charges he faces. Hussain is being held at Pinckneyville Correctional Center in unrelated burglary, forgery and drunken driving cases, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.

Rabbi Leonard Matanky, of Congregation K.I.N.S. at 2400 W. North Shore Ave., had his temple’s glass door broken during the rampage, which he said roiled his tight-knit community.

“To have something like this specifically target Jewish institutions is concerning,” he said. “It’s scary and it is something that, unfortunately though, is not unique anymore.”


Rabbi Leonard Matanky, of Congregation K.I.N.S., stands in the main hallway at Ida Crown Jewish Academy, Monday, April 25, 2022, in Skokie.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Matanky said it’s concerning that Jewish people are now facing increased persecution in the United States, where they sought refuge after experiencing oppression and abuse throughout their history.

“Today we would like to believe that humanity has come to a different place,” he said. “But the reality is we see a rise in antisemitism around the world and in our own backyard here in the United States. It’s something that requires vigilance and it requires people to stand up and protest and take strong action.”

In recent years, as antisemitism has become more pervasive, Matanky said he and other Jewish leaders began taking unprecedented security measures by locking their synagogues’ doors at all hours and hiring guards.

“Within the Jewish community, there is a heightened sense of need for that security because of these incidents,” he said. “What happened most recently at my synagogue was on the one hand shocking and on the other hand something that unfortunately we have to become accustomed to happening with the Jewish institutions.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a member of one of the city’s most prominent Jewish families, included $20 million in his recent budget to fund a grant program that helps secure synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions. Alex Gough, a Pritzker spokesman, said the “nationwide rise in violence at houses of worship requires decisive action.”

“The Governor, in partnership with lawmakers and religious advocates, is committed to preventing hate crimes in every community around the state,” Gough said.

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