Thursday, April 29, 2021
The FBI wants to hear from Hasidim, or "ultra-Orthodox" Jews. The Hate Crimes Unit said as much when it issued announcements – in both Yiddish and Hebrew – asking Jews to report antisemitic incidents in an outreach campaign launched in April 2021.
The campaign follows highly visible antisemitic incidents in the U.S. in recent years, including the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 people dead.
Hasidic Jews make up the overwhelming majority of Yiddish speakers in the U.S. They number about 320,000 adults, according to Matt Williams, director of the Orthodox Union for Communal Research. Outreach to this community poses distinctive challenges because Hasidic communities can be insular, often seeking to address issues from education to sexual assault without involving outsiders.
As someone who has written about Jews and the FBI, I am not surprised that the FBI now wants to address antisemitism. But the FBI has a complicated history with Jews. It is a past that suggests the FBI has loved the idea of Judaism as a religion, but not necessarily American Jews themselves.
Cold War embrace
Officially founded in 1935, the FBI was designed to take on domestic crime and surveillance. By the late 1940s, driven by Cold War ideals, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bolstered an image of the U.S. as religious and moral as opposed to its enemy – an atheistic, immoral Soviet Union. Embracing Judaism as good, lawful and American was strategic.
During his prepared remarks at a 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, Hoover called communism an "evil work" and "a cause that is alien to the religion of Christ and Judaism." He believed that the U.S. had a superior moral foundation – a religious one – and that communism was built on nothing but human iniquity.
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