On Sunday morning, over a dozen Kensington community members woke up to discover antisemitic flyers had been left on their porches overnight, including several members of Temple Emanuel, the synagogue’s executive director Dianne Neiman confirmed to Bethesda Beat.
The Anti-Defamation League and local law enforcement are investigating the incident, Neiman said.
“We continue to condemn all acts of antisemitism and hate and encourage our community to stay vigilant,” a representative from the synagogue wrote in a statement. “If you see something, say something.”
ADL Regional Director Meredith Weisel told Bethesda Beat her organization is familiar with the images in the flyers and believes a group called the Goyim Defense League is responsible for their distribution.
The GDL is a loose network of individuals connected to virulent antisemitism and white supremacy across the country, according to Weisel. The group is known for promoting coordinated propaganda campaigns targeting the Jewish community, the LGBTQ+ community and other underrepresented groups.
“Their overarching goal is to cast aspersions on Jews and spread antisemitic conspiracy theories and myths,” Weisel said.
The ADL has noted increased activity nationwide from the GDL over the past several months, including an uptick in reports of antisemitic flyers.
“They’re trying to get a rise out of people and cast fear into the community,” she said, adding that it’s important for communities to report these incidents to authorities whenever they happen.
Bethesda Beat was unable to contact GDL about whether the organization took responsibility for the flyers.
The Montgomery County Police Department did not immediately respond Monday to requests for comment.
Widespread belief in anti-Jewish tropes is being measured “at rates unseen for decades,” according to a recent report from the ADL. A separate ADL audit on antisemitic incidents recorded at least 46 Maryland-based incidents in 2021, representing a 175% increase from the previous year.
A united community response
Students at five Montgomery County schools are planning walkouts to show solidarity with the Jewish community amid a recent surge of hateful acts across the county. Just last month, hundreds of Walt Whitman students and staff participated in a similar walkout after someone defaced Whitman’s entrance sign with antisemitic graffiti.
On Monday, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington announced that both are jointly offering a reward for information leading to the arrest and indictment of the parties responsible for the antisemitic graffiti found at Whitman as well as the graffiti found on the Bethesda Trolley Trail in November.
The reward totals $5,000, with $2,500 offered for information on each incident. The offer expires July 21, 2023.
Swastikas were drawn on desks at three county schools last week, Montgomery County Public Schools and the Board of Education announced Saturday.
Walk-outs at Winston Churchill High School and McLean School are scheduled for Monday afternoon during sixth period. Similar walkouts are planned at Poolesville, Quince Orchard and Montgomery Blair High Schools on Jan. 30.
Veronica Sulima is a Poolesville junior who is helping to organize the walkout at her school, where she said there’s “never been a decent discussion about antisemitism” before.
“At my school, I think there’s a lot of hate toward minority groups—not just physical things like graffiti, but just by word of mouth,” she told Bethesda Beat in an interview on Friday. “The general environment is extremely unwelcoming. It’s been building for a while now.”
She added, “We hear almost nothing about all this hateful stuff happening. What bothered us the most is that no one was willing to talk about this. We felt kind of powerless, seeing everything. This was one of the only things we could think of to really make a stand.”
In a statement released on Jan. 21, Montgomery County Public Schools pledged to increase education about antisemitism in collaboration with local advocates like the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“We must do more, and we will,” the statement read. “We must embrace the work necessary to ensure our scholars are in safe and welcoming school environments.”
Mischa Smith is a junior at McLean School, a small private college preparatory school in Potomac. She said there’s around 200 students enrolled at her school, and she hopes at least half of them participate in the walk-out. She first began planning it over winter break with another classmate.
“McLean is generally good at addressing issues in the community, but we didn’t hear anything about antisemitism until the walkout was floated,” she told Bethesda Beat. She said with all the incidents of antisemitism happening, she helped organize the walkout because she wants “kids to feel safer in their schools.”
McLean receptionist Malika Hussein couldn’t join Monday’s walkout herself but said over 60 students and staff filed outside into the cold, including “almost all of the upper school students and staff.” She said it was “absolutely amazing” to see so many students and teachers take a public stance against antisemitism together.
McLean counselor Andrew Ship helped students coordinate the walkout and said it went very well. He said four students spoke to the crowd as well as Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz from B’nai Israel.
On Friday, Ship said McLean is holding an assembly in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Students and staff will be invited to share their thoughts and experiences related to the Holocaust and antisemitism. Talia Chicherio, faculty organizer of the event, will play audio clips of her grandmother, Edith Lowy, speaking about her experience as a Holocaust survivor.
County Executive Marc Elrich and the County Council released separate statements regarding the antisemitic incidents that occurred over the weekend.
“These attacks are meant to instill fear to weaken and divide our communities, but these are generating more support for our Jewish neighbors,” Elrich wrote in his statement. “We are united and are showing those who are [peddling] hate that these antisemitic attempts at community disruption won’t be tolerated.”
County Council President Evan Glass (D-At-Large) addressed the series of antisemitic acts during a press event on Monday.
‘We want to reiterate that we have zero tolerance for hate of any kind or dangerous displays of bigotry,” he said, calling the flyers “disgusting.” He reached out to MCPS and MCPD leaders to make sure “we do everything we can to find these individuals,” he said.
Sulima said she hopes the series of student walkouts prompt deeper schoolwide conversations about combatting antisemitism and fostering a safe community.
Anyone who received a flyer can report it through the ADL’s website, and anyone with relevant information is encouraged to contact Montgomery County Police at 240-773-8477.