Rabbis meet in Atlanta as nation grapples with growing anti-Semitism


Vandals strike a Jewish cemetery in a suburb of St. Louis.

In Atlanta, a Jewish community center and the local office of the Anti-Defamation League receive threats.

“The world we live in has changed,” said Chief Executive Rabbi Steve Fox, leader of the Central Conference of American Rabbis , which will hold its annual meeting in Atlanta next week. “The political climate in the United States has changed. Our members have expressed great concern and some fear for their communities, and not just their organizations, but the community in which they live.”

He said there has been a decline in the nature of civil discourse and economic justice and a rise in racism and anti-Semitism.

More than 500 rabbis from around the world will come to Atlanta next week for the 128th annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which will be held Sunday through Wednesday at the Loews Atlanta Hotel, 1065 Peachtree St. N.E. The event is not open to the public.

On the agenda will be a discussion of hate crimes against the Jewish community, discrimination and how to be effective faith leaders in turbulent times. That includes building on interfaith relations to make the world better, Fox said.

The organization is part of the Reform Movement in Judaism, which has a long history of involvement in the civil rights and social justice arenas.

Speakers include Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center; Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP; and Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of history at Emory University and author of “Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory,” which was hailed as the first full-length study of deniers of the Holocaust.

Last year, the convention was held in Israel.

Coincidentally, the conference returns to the United States at a time when the country is experiencing a rise in hate crimes and threats following a contentious presidential campaign.

Just this week, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta received a bomb threat.

This is the second threat that the Jewish center, which also has a school on its property, has received since the start of the year.

Earlier this month, four Anti-Defamation League offices, including one on Piedmont Road in Buckhead, received bomb threats.

According to the ADL’s national website, there have been more than 160 threats to Jewish institutions and cemeteries within the past three months.

Cohen, of the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said within the past couple of years, there has been a rise in the number of hate groups and the nature of hate group activity.

“Mr. Trump has energized the white supremacist world in unprecedented ways,” he said. That includes “the nature of his campaign, the bigotry laced through it — combined with his attacks on so-called political correctness — has given license to those with hate in their hearts.”

Fighting it requires a full-court press.

“It has to happen in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our businesses and with our politicians,” he said. “The most important thing is to restore a sense of shame to bigotry.”

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