Focus on Issues Study Claims That Vandalism Against Synagogues is Not Isolated in One Part of the U.
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Focus on Issues Study Claims That Vandalism Against Synagogues is Not Isolated in One Part of the U.

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Nearly 600 rabbis in five states, polled recently on the extent of anti-Semitic vandalism against their synagogues, generally indicated caution in suggesting such vandalism was a problem in their communities, even in the face of specifics to the contrary.

The poll was made by Penn and Schoen Associates, a New York public relations firm, on commission from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. A summary of the poll was published in the fall winter issue of the Wiesenthal Center’s “Social Action Update.” The summary was checked out by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency with the polling firm, partly to amplify specifics of the polling procedure and partly to clarify elements of the Wiesenthal Center newsletter summary.

The summary declared that “those who view vandalism against synagogues as a phenomenon isolated in one part of the country are sadly mistaken.” The newsletter asserted that, in the past three years, 57 percent of New York City synagogues had been vandalized, as were 49 percent of synagogues throughout New York State.

The percentages of vandalized synagogues, reported in the newsletter for other states, were: 32 percent in California, 32 percent in Florida, 38 percent in Illinois, and 19 percent in Texas.


A polling firm official said the telephone calls to 568 rabbis were made between the fall of 1981 and the summer of 1982. He said 332 rabbis were polled in New York State, 77 in Florida, 76 in California, 62 in Illinois and 21 in Texas.

The official also told the JTA that the rabbis were selected for polling on a weighted basis related to the size of their congregations in an effort to get as representative a sampling for each state polled as the limited nature of the survey permitted.

The Wiesenthal Center newsletter reported that the poll was commissioned “to gain a better perspective” on how rabbis evaluated “the seriousness of anti-Semitic manifestations in their communities.” The newsletter declared that “during the past few years there has been a noticeable increase in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the United States.”


In declaring that the findings showed that the responding rabbis were “exceedingly cautious” in suggesting that anti-Semitism was a problem in their communities, the newsletter summary asserted that “invariably, rabbis were more likely to say that anti-Semitism was a problem in the country as a whole than in their home cities or communities. Indeed, the closer one gets to the rabbi’s home communities, the less likely they are to suggest that anti-Semitism is a serious problem.”

Far from any problem of rabbis “obsessed with the issue of anti-Semitism,” the newsletter said that the pall findings suggested that the rabbis “tend to de-emphasized rather than emphasize its occurrence in their home communities.”

Despite the tendency, the newsletter declared, “26 percent of the rabbis in New York City, 24 percent in New York state, 22 percent of those in California, 18 percent of those in Illinois, 10 percent of those in Florida and five percent of those in Texas said there had been attacks of a specifically anti-Semitic nature on their institutions in the last three years.”

The newsletter stressed that the polling firm had been asked to instruct its telephone interviewers to define as anti-Semitic attacks “only those where a specifically anti-Jewish action was taken,” such as “painting a swastika” on the synagogue building.


The newsletter, in its summary, reported that rabbis in California, Florida and Illinois “were much more willing to acknowledge that other synagogues had been vandalized then they were willing to acknowledge that their own institutions had been vandalized. While 32 percent of California and Florida rabbis and 38 percent of Illinois rabbis said their synagogues had been attacked in the last three years, the numbers were much higher when these same people were asked to comment on other synagogues.”

The newsletter also declared that the polled rabbis “were much less cautious in ascribing anti-Semitic intention to vandals at other synagogues than they were in their own institutions. Ninety percent of the vandalism in California was described as anti-Semitic, (and) about three-quarters of the vandalism in Florida was described as anti-Semitic.”

The newsletter also reported, from the poll findings, that reporting of incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism against synagogues by their rabbis varied across the country, referring to reporting incidents to “Jewish organizations.”

Asked about the poll questions on that point, the public relations official said that almost all of the rabbis reported such incidents to local police and that the “Jewish organizations” mentioned in the newsletter summary usually referred to local Jewish Community Relations Councils.

The newsletter summary said that “Jewish organizations” in New York State were informed in only about 20 percent of the incidents, while in California, 62 percent of incidents were reported; in Florida, and in Illinois 50 percent of the incidents were reported; “and in Texas all (incidents) were reported.”


Another finding, according to the newsletter summary, was that California “is the only state to report a large number of attacks on other Jewish institutions in the last three years.”

The polling firm official was asked to elaborate on the comment in the newsletter summary that, “given these statistics, programs on anti-Semitism are not as extensive as they might be.” He confirmed that the poll had sought to determine how many of the rabbi respondents had reported programs to cope with anti-Semitic vandalism.

The newsletter summary, declared, on that point, that “New York City synagogues only had programs in 37 percent” of problem situations. The polling findings, as described in the newsletter summary, gave these statistics for the other states: programs in 70 percent of California synagogues; 60 percent in Florida synagogues; 61 percent in Illinois synagogues and 57 percent in Texas synagogues.

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