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January 9, 2023 12:15 pm

‘Their Character Has Been Assassinated’: Wave of Antisemitic Attacks Has Immense Psychological Effect on Jews, Expert Says


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

A man wears a kippah at a May 2021 “No to Antisemitism” demonstration outside. Photo: Reuters/Fabian Strauch/dpa

The unrelenting wave of street-level antisemitic attacks in cities across the United States and Europe are having a profoundly negative psychological effect on individual Jews, a leading clinical and forensic psychologist on told The Algemeiner on Thursday.

“We have victims who experience trauma…to feeling that their character has been assassinated,” said Dr. Rabbi David Fox, director of Chai Lifeline Crisis Services, a New York based nonprofit providing mental health services to the Jewish community. “We have bullying, and the name calling and the swastikas that are painted on synagogues, which effect not only on adults but children as well.”

Fox, who has directed the trauma services at Chai Lifeline for the last nine years, working primarily with the Jewish community and training emergency responders to manage crises in their neighborhoods, says his work has taken on new importance during a time when antisemitic hate crimes have reached alarming levels and Jew hatred is being mainstreamed by celebrities, political figures, and social media influencers.

Antisemitic incidents in the US in 2021 occurred at the highest numbers ever recorded, according to the latest annual audit by the ADL carried out in April, which began collecting data on them in 1979. Substantial increases in physical assaults were recorded, as well as over 1,500 incidents of harassment and vandalism.

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While harsher criminal punishment for antisemitic perpetrators and increased community vigilance have been leading issues in Jewish communities, particularly in New York and London, the often hidden psychological toll on Jews themselves, Fox stressed, remains undercovered.

“You’re going to have emotional upheaval in people, which means that if a person is being maligned, humiliated, or shamed they are going to go back and forth between sadness and rage,” he said. “Rage that can’t be expressed because you’re outnumbered or they have weapons or are bigger than you. So they’re going to be sullen and detached and withdrawn. That can linger for a couple of weeks, partially because of the cognitive disbelief that such a thing could happen.”

In New York City, where Chai Lifeline Crisis Services is based, Orthodox Jews are disproportionately targeted, accounting for 94 percent of antisemitic assaults that occurred between 2018 and 2022, according to Americans Against Antisemitism (AAA), a group founded in 2019. Over two-thirds, 69 percent, of the assailants were African American, the group said, with most attacks, 77 percent, taking place in predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Of all assaults that prompted criminal proceedings just two resulted in convictions.

Some observant Jews, Fox said, may also feel dejected and enter an existential crisis, doubting that the world is morally ordered. One consequence is wariness of wearing clothing that would “identify them as a Jew. The more common result is…panic, fear of going out, fear of being around certain people to just an overall hyper-vigilant state because you don’t know when it is going to happen again.”

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