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Pandemic gives rise to anti-Semitic 'zoom bombing' attacks in Ohio

"It was only between 15 and 20 seconds but it felt devastating,” said the Pepper Pike Rabbi, as he described the 'zoom bombing' incident.

PEPPER PIKE, Ohio — In April 2020 as the country began functioning in a virtual world, Northeast Ohio synagogues were adjusting too.

“Our synagogue here in Pepper Pike still wanted to create community so we shifted and adapted and became a virtual online community,” said Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria, B'nai Jeshurun.

That meant Rabbi Rudin-Luria was using zoom for all of his services and classes.

And it was going well until two strangers joined one of his classes and took control.

“They started playing what I think was pre-recorded audio, 'Heil Hitler' over and over again, with some dramatic violent noises in the background,” said Rabbi Rudin-Luria. “It felt like it was a half hour attack. It was really only between 15 and 20 seconds but it felt devastating.” 

Rabbi Rudin-Luria reported the incident to the police and the FBI. His synagogue also changed their security policies – making all of their online services password protected.

What happened in the Rabbi's class is not unique.

In fact, this type of harassment in which intruders hijack video calls has become so common, it's been coined “Zoom bombing.” And, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has tracked 196 ‘zoom bombing’ attacks over the last year.

“Unfortunately, we've seen throughout history, antisemitism can morph and change to fit whatever is happening in society at that time,” said Sara Scheinbach, of the ADL’s Cleveland office.

So, what's responsible for this rise in hate? Scheinbach says there's no one answer.

“We can look at several trends and see a number of factor that contribute. The political climate in this country has gotten a lot more polarized,” said Scheinbach. “Hate groups have become emboldened, and we've also seen a rise of hate online.”

And ‘zoom bombing’ is not all we're seeing. The ADL recorded 43 anti-Semitic incidents in Ohio in 2020, up from 25 the year before.

Credit: WKYC

Incidents are categorized as harassment, vandalism, and assault. Of the total incidents reported in Ohio in 2020: 

  • Harassment: There were 30 harassment incidents, a 76 percent increase over the previous year. ADL defines harassment as cases in which one or more Jews reported feeling targeted or threatened by anti-Semitic language or acts.
  • Vandalism: There were 12 vandalism incidents, a 50 percent increase over the previous year. ADL defines vandalism as cases in which property was damaged in a manner that harmed or intimidated Jews. Swastikas, which are generally interpreted as symbols of anti-Semitic hatred, were present in 83 percent of these incidents.
  • Assault: There was 1 assault incident, an increase from 0 in 2019. ADL defines assaults as cases in which individuals were physically targeted with violence accompanied by evidence of anti-Semitic animus.

Below is a small sampling of anti-Semitic incidents in Ohio recorded by ADL in 2020. The full list of incidents can be accessed here.

  • December, Rocky River - A virtual conference held via Zoom was disrupted by unknown participants who posted images of swastikas and asked if the attendees liked Nazis.
  • November, Columbus - A Jewish couple was verbally harassed amidst celebrating President-elect Joe Biden's win by their neighbor who allegedly yelled at them: "You f***ing liberal Jews, you and your f****ing dog - I'm going to poison your goddamn dog" and "No wonder Hitler burned all your people, I'm going to burn you and all your Jewish friends." Later, the neighbor threw objects at the house, shattering their window and door.
  • November, Cleveland - Vandalism that included a drawing of a swastika and the word "Jewish" was found at Lansing Avenue Jewish Cemetery.
  • October, Akron - A Jewish funeral held on Zoom was disrupted by unknown participants who made anti-Semitic comments.
  • September, Cleveland - A Jewish virtual prayer service held on Zoom for mourners was disrupted by unknown participants who shared pornographic images and stated "he deserved to die."
  • September, Oxford - According to Miami University, a Zoom meeting hosted by a business fraternity was disrupted by unknown participants who used "racial slurs and anti-Semitic images."
  • August, Cleveland - A Jewish educational organization's online class was disrupted by unknown participants who wrote "Adolph Hitler" on the screen and "F*** JEWS FREE PALESTINE." The intruders also shouted "Sieg Heil" and "Kill the Jews."
  • August, Newton Falls - A swastika and the white supremacist numeric symbol 1488 were found drawn in chalk on an outdoor basketball court.
  • August, Orange - A man was issued a fourth-degree misdemeanor citation after multiple people, including two off-duty police officers, witnessed him carving a swastika on the sidewalk.
  • July, Columbus - A swastika and the words "I love Nazi" were found etched into a parked car near The Ohio State University.

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