San Diego political, community and religious leaders invited the public to a town hall meeting Thursday evening to discuss security concerns and outreach programs for combating the rising tide of antisemitism locally.
Mayor Todd Gloria told the crowd of more than 200 attendees gathered at a Del Cerro synagogue that an attack on one minority group is an attack on all minority groups. He said law enforcement would be working with community members to prevent hateful violence in any form.
“We are better than the people spewing this,” Gloria said. He added later: “We will build the connections that are necessary to make sure they never, ever win.”
The event, held at Temple Emanu-El, was billed as “A San Diego Town Hall with Mayor Todd Gloria,” but there were others helping to drive the discussion hosted by the Anti-Defamation League, including Summer Stephan, the county district attorney, Sheri Sachs, a leader and activist in the local Jewish community, and Karen Parry, a executive director of Hillel of San Diego.
Parry and fellow panelist Fernando López, executive director of San Diego Pride, said minority groups that have experienced discrimination and hate-fueled violence should work together as allies. By “opening people’s eyes” through education and outreach, they argued, they could defeat a “common enemy: White supremacy and White nationalism.”
“The first step is to meet, to convene, to feel like you’re connected to a Jewish community around you,” said Perry, adding that the Hillel now regularly goes to college campuses to hand out food and to invite non-Jewish students to events.
An audit released earlier this year by the Anti-Defamation League showed 2021 had the highest number of antisemitic incidents nationwide since the ADL began tracking the statistic in 1979. Locally, the Jewish community of San Diego County last year saw a 31 percent rise in antisemitic incidents.
The audit, coupled with recent antisemitic statements by a handful of celebrities, led the ADL to organize the event and open a dialogue between the Jewish community and elected representatives, officials said.
They also hoped the conversation would help dispel antisemitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories dominating certain sectors of social media, officials said.
“We are all reeling from the recent uptick in antisemitism and bigotry of all kinds here and across the nation,” an ADL statement on Thursday read, “and this event is an opportunity for San Diego residents to hear from their elected officials and community leaders about how they are fighting hate in our city, and it affords them the chance to ask them questions directly.”
Before entering the event, attendees passed by San Diego police officers. Private security waited at the synagogue gate with metal detectors and areas to check bags.
Sachs said that the Jewish community had been losing allies over the years, and that many felt that they were becoming increasingly isolated. Gloria and Stephan informed the attendees that he and local law enforcement were dedicated to ensuring the Jewish community felt safe in San Diego County.
A handful of people expressed anxiety over antisemitic violence becoming normalized in their community.
Attendee Jackie Stein sat in the back of the sanctuary, carrying a community newspaper from October in her purse. The front page had a story about Carmel Valley Middle School, where a seventh-grade teacher had displayed an image of Adolf Hitler in classroom alongside photos of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
A student complained to the teacher about the photo in September, and a parent contacted the principal and the Anti-Defamation League. School staff took the photo down.
The Union-Tribune reported in October that civil rights groups, Jewish organizations, parents and community members said associating Hitler with a group of inspirational, positive world leaders without providing context or explanation was confusing and harmful, regardless of the teacher’s intent.
“(Elected officials) don’t want to have violence where they live or where their voters live,” Stein said. “And that’s why I’m here. They need to know that it’s a really big issue that needs to be addressed.”
The Jewish Foundation of San Diego released a statement last month about the Carmel Valley incident, saying the controversy came after hundreds of Jewish San Dieguito Union High School District students pleaded for their school board to do something about antisemitism. The students said they experienced intolerance at school, ranging from offensive comments and internet memes to vandalism and having to take standardized tests on Rosh Hashanah.
Stephan told the audience that her office will continue to treat the prosecution of hate crimes as a top priority.
“We’ve tripled our hate crime prosecutions in my office in the last year because bullies have to be stopped and prosecuted,” said Stephan, adding that her office wished to send the message that San Diego “is not a place to hate.”
In 2019, John Earnest, a 19-year-old former nursing student, walked into a Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover and shot multiple congregants, killing one person and injuring three others, including a child.
He pleaded guilty to all charges he faced in state and federal court, including charges of murder, attempted murder and arson — for the attack on Chabad of Poway and for setting fire to an Escondido mosque a month earlier — admitting that both acts were hate crimes.
School administrators and Jewish community leaders held a news conference in Chula Vista last November to report that antisemitic and homophobic graffiti that was discovered on the campuses of Bonita Vista High School and Bonita Vista Middle School in Chula Vista. A few weeks later, two swastikas were found on the walls of a boys bathroom at Torrey Pines High School.
Since then, San Diego Unified and San Dieguito Union High districts have adopted resolutions denounce antisemitic rhetoric.
The ADL has increasingly promoted anti-hate educational opportunities in classrooms and on campuses in recent years, and the Jewish Federation of San Diego County has been helping raise $5 million for security renovations at local Jewish organizations by 2025.