‘We’re Not Standing Alone’: ADL Regional Director Speaksby Brie Stimson March 23, 2017
To say 2017 has already been a turbulent year is an understatement. There has been an increasing number of threats against Jewish institutions, including two at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla, President Trump has now made two attempts at a travel ban (which many are calling a Muslim ban) the scope of Russia’s influence in our politics sounds more and more like a spy novel every day and North Korea has been testing missiles in the Pacific.
The Anti-Defamation League hasn’t gotten lost in the craziness, however. ADL has stayed sharp and on task and ready to defend the Jewish community and anyone else marginalized by the current political climate.
“I would just want to put the message out to the Jewish community that with these 146 bomb threats, five of them were at ADL offices, all of us as a community together cannot back down, we just must be more determined than ever to go about our lives . We can’t cower. We have to stand up and stay strong together as a community. We have an amazing San Diego Jewish community and even greater community,” Tammy Gillies, Regional Director for ADL San Diego told the Jewish Journal over the phone recently. There’s a sound of determination in her voice, and it’s clear the ADL isn’t going to back down any time soon.
In response to rising threats in the community the League held an impromptu program with more than 500 members of the community earlier this month to discuss safety. Gillies said the program was put together in just a few days, and along with the big response from the community, San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, Eric Birnbaum, the FBI special agent in charge and Congresswoman Susan Davis attended as well.
“We decided … that we were going to put together this program in a very short time, just a couple of days, to share with the Jewish community what’s happening, what we see trending what we’re doing about it and to bring in our law enforcement partners to be able to show their support and that they take this very seriously,” Gillies explained. “We had standing room only at the theater … which was fantastic.”
Gillies said she started off the presentation discussing the threats across the country, (cemetery desecrations, bomb threats, swastikas, vandalized synagogues) then addressed the concerns here in San Diego.
“I talked about how we convene a Jewish community security committee quarterly and that includes I think most of all of our local synagogues and agencies and how we all work together,” she said.
She said the community is concerned about the rise in the level of anti-Semitism . “We heard from preschool parents at the JCC about their fears and we were just wanting to really reassure people that ADL is always here , law enforcement is always here and they should … go about their lives just as they always have and that we can’t be afraid and we can’t back down from these awful threats.”
Gillies said that San Diego is actually way ahead of many communities in taking security in the community seriously.
“[I] talked about the question that everyone’s asking: ‘Is this because of the election?’” she said. Gillies added that, of course, anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years and didn’t just start last year, but the ADL believes the hateful rhetoric during the election has emboldened people on the alt-right “what we call white supremacists,” she said. “It emboldened them to be more normalized, more part of society, and so I think that does count for a lot of what we’re seeing.”
GIllies said an important part of the ADL’s job right now is to not allow anti-Semitic behavior to become normalized. “We feel that if we let the small things go they grow into the big things, so we have to really shine a light and say this is not acceptable,” she explained. “You can’t put out a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day,” she added, citing the White House’s statement in February, “that does not include the word Jews, Jewish, anti-Semitism , you can’t do that. And I think that’s the message you have to call people out with, whether they are elected officials, school officials, people have to understand that words matter and we’re still living in a civil society.”
While Gillies acknowledges the White House explanation that they didn’t want to leave out any non-Jewish people who died in their statement, “but the full purpose of the Holocaust was to remove Jews from Europe,” she explained.
She said the ADL came out publicly against Steve Bannon, something that is very unusual for the organization. “But having somebody who has given a platform to the alt-right and to misogynists and racists – so not saying that he himself is that – but the fact that he gave a platform for those people is very concerning when you have your office two doors down from the Oval Office , so that was a big concern of ours and remains so,” she said.
Gillies said it’s important for the Jewish community to stick together.
“We have to stop looking at each other as are we’re Republican Jews or Democratic Jews or Reform Jews or Conservative Jews – because we’re all Jews, and we’re all in this together, and that I just encourage people to get past those small differences and think of what it means to be part of the larger community.”
San Diego’s ADL also held a “call to action” meeting on the refugee crisis this month in the face of Trump’s travel bans. Gillies said the silver lining in all this is that the minority communities of San Diego are coming together.
“I have cards and letter s on my desk from the Muslim community, the diocese of San Diego , the African American churches . People are standing with us and it is heartening,” she said. “We’re not the only one facing hate right now. We do need all to be together … We’re not standing alone, we never let others stand alone and this is what it’s all about being part of the Jewish community and the greater community.”
A 19-year-old American-Israeli was arrested in Israel Thursday as the prime suspect in the nationwide series of bomb threats against Jewish organizations.