Antisemitism casts darkness amid Hanukkah lights

As the first night of Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, arrived Sunday, Jews across the region were also contending with darkness — a surge of antisemitic incidents that have left many feeling vulnerable and even frightened.

In recent days, the words “Jews Not Welcome” defaced an entrance sign at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, teachers reported receiving antisemitic emails, and a swastika was painted at a bus-stop bench at Montgomery Mall, four miles from the school.

Last month, police investigated antisemitic messages, including swastikas, hangmen and white-supremacist language, all found in Bethesda. Other antisemitic symbols were found on the Bethesda Trolley Trail in August.

The news of the graffiti over the weekend was not surprising to Rachel Barold, 14, a freshman at Walt Whitman. She said she regularly hears antisemitic comments from her classmates.

“We’re ridiculed constantly,” she said, describing, for instance, people making fun of a Jewish person’s nose or casually mentioning that they are glad not to be Jewish. “It’s socially acceptable to be antisemitic.”

On Saturday, she and three other Jewish students from Walt Whitman were together at a club activity when they received a schoolwide email about the vandalism at their school. On the spot, they formed a group called Jews4Change and began planning a walkout of classes on Thursday. Barold, whose grandfather is a Holocaust survivor, said one of their goals is to push Montgomery County schools to include more Holocaust education in the curriculum.

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