Calling It Out and Calling It In
Antisemitism in Rochester

At the end of 2022, a few notable public incidents involving celebrities Kanye West, Nick Fuentes and Dave Chappelle exemplified the latest wave of antisemitism in the United States. For Jews, this is nothing new. The Anti-Defamation League and other social justice groups have documented this uptick in anti-Jewish hate and bigotry incidents over the past five or so years. How does Rochester compare, and how do we move forward to a future without antisemitism?

Small but mighty

Carlota Gay-Rabinstein, an artist and physician, finds Rochester to be a welcoming community for herself and other Jews, who are about 1% of the population in Olmsted County. However, the traditional year cycle makes observing Jewish holidays challenging. “There is just a lack of consideration for other calendars,” says Gay-Rabinstein. “Most people know of Hanukkah, but there are usually no Hanukkah songs in holiday programs. This is easy to change. It also helps to be able to work with teachers and employers when you need to be absent for the High Holidays in the fall.”

“I like to say that Jews are hiding in plain sight,” says Joy Deborah Robison, a Rochester graphic designer who is on the board at B’nai Israel Synagogue. “We are a tiny, yet diverse group. Yes, Jews are welcome here. However, there is still a lot of ignorance about Judaism and Jewish culture. And there are white supremacists and neo-Nazis also hiding in plain sight in Rochester.”

Calling it out, calling it in

“Opening B’nai Israel Synagogue to the community in 2018, after (the mass shooting at) Pittsburgh, was one way to ‘call out’ antisemitism and enlist allies,” says Robison. “But we need to ‘call in’ as well and have those difficult conversations. At school, when there are antisemitic comments among kids or a lack of comfort with difference, both teachers and students need to be empowered to take these things on. Because they do happen. It’s not easy, but that’s what needs to be done, in every setting.” 

“It’s a fine line,” says Gay-Rabenstein. “We need to educate people about what it is to be Jewish, but we must stay safe too. It’s a daily process.”

“We can’t forget that being Jewish is joyful,” says Robison. “Despite everything, we know that our tradition adds to the strength, richness and diversity of our community. It is our birthright to carry it forward for the future. That’s what keeps us going.” ::

By Anastasia Hopkins Folpe

Photography by LLC

About Author

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Anastasia is a volunteer, mom and gardener. She also loves reading, running and enjoying time with family and friends.

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