Despite progress, antisemitism still rages in today’s society


Photo courtesy of Elijah Weinstein and the UNCA Hillel.

UNC Asheville Hillel at their final Shabbat dinner of the year.

Jonah Levy, [email protected], Contributor

Being a minority in the United States of America means you have to face adversities left and right. This is not only prevalent in racial and gender differences, but in religious differences as well. 

Antisemitism in the United States grows every year while  people of the Jewish faith continue their traditions and move forward with promoting their cultural differences despite instances of hate.

“My parents raised me to think that everyone hates Jews, so it was very difficult to actually experience the hate in real life,” said Olivia Goldstein, a 30-year-old UNC Asheville student.

Ashley Lasher, executive director of the Jewish Community Center, described the Jewish community in Asheville by using words like strong, collaborative and vibrant, despite this city lacking the offerings other bigger cities have like Jewish delis, kosher butchers, Jewish-centric neighborhoods and modern orthodox congregations.

“What we do have is a generations-long history of successful Jewish-owned downtown businesses. A variety of Jewish organizations working for tikkun olam (the betterment of the world) and supporting children, families and elders, and a tight knit community supporting one another in times of joy and need,” Lasher said.

Lasher said it’s easier to live here than other places because Asheville is a very liberal community. However, anti-Jewish sentiment can come from both the left and right.

“This past fall the JCC, Beth Israel and Beth HaTephila came together for an Anti-Defamation League workshop called Word to Action description, in which middle and high school students learn and practice a variety of responses to antisemitism,” Lasher said. “In the workshop the kids had to say what antisemitism looks like, feels like and sounds like.”

The children said antisemitism looks like people saluting you with the Nazi salute after the Pledge of Allegiance, concentration camp spoofs, money jokes about Jews on social media and swastika graffiti on bathroom walls in schools. They also said it feels like an attack on their identity, never knowing how to respond and worrying about safety and intimidation.

Things that sounded like antisemitism were ‘you have a big nose, are you rich, you don’t look Jewish’ and Holocaust jokes about concentration camps.


I remember when I was little, thinking everything about my family was typical, part of the majority.

It wasn’t until I got to middle school that I figured out I was the only Jewish kid in the entire grade. However, to me this was normal. I liked being different from the rest of the people in my grade, always telling them about my culture and traditions.

Sunday school came like a slap in the face. Going to school on a Sunday just to learn about Judaism? It wasn’t my choice, and the tears streaming down my face every time I saw the building could’ve told you all of my feelings on the subject. Thus began my gradual move away from religion.

“Jonah, do you want to have a Bar-Mitzvah,” my father said when I was 13 years old. After seeing all of the lavish and spectacularly brilliant parties my cousins had for their Bar-Mitzvahs, it was hard to say no. 

A Bar-Mitzvah is a tradition in which you finally are first able to read from the sacred Torah. This signifies your entrance to adulthood.

Although, having that rite of passage into manhood would certainly have gratified my ancestors, the year-long extra study sessions proved too much of a commitment for my 13-year-old self.

When I got to high school things were much different. I suddenly wasn’t excited to tell people about my religious differences, but others were happy to point them out and laugh at me.

Antisemitism in high school and no other connection to Judaism, I slowly moved away from my relationship with God to focus on myself.


Goldstein, a mass communication major, grew up Jewish in New Jersey, but came to Asheville 10 years ago.

“Asheville was the first place I had ever experienced antisemitism,” Goldstein said.

One instance of antisemitism Olivia faced was at a bar in Asheville called Fraser’s Tavern on Merrimon Avenue.

After talking with her friend about something pertaining to Judaism, a man nearby started shouting and screaming at them. The man shouted something about Israel, even though that wasn’t the topic of Olivia’s conversation.

“He was jumping down my throat saying really nasty things about Jewish people,” Goldstein said. “My friend suggested we simply leave the bar, so we left.”

She said the experience was very startling for her since she had never experienced anything like that, especially because she was from an area of the country that consisted of a lot of Jewish people.

“I don’t understand any discrimination towards anyone, but I really can’t wrap my head around why people hate Jews so much,” Goldstein said.

Olivia said the experience will stick with her for a long time because of how shocked, scared and confused she was in the moment.

Another instance in which she witnessed antisemitism was in 2017. Bomb threats became increasingly popular, especially to places in Asheville where Judaism was a focus.

The Asheville Jewish Community Center, Beth HaTephila Synagogue and Beth Israel Synagogue all received bomb threats around the same time. Olivia taught at Beth HaTephila for several years including when the bomb threat shocked the community.

“We had to get FBI training, do bomb scare drills and tint the windows because of the bomb threats,” Goldstein said. “It was really scary because shootings are most likely to happen in places of worship and schools, and this synagogue checked all the boxes.”

Olivia also referenced several instances which made her angry, such as people dressing up as Hitler for various reasons.

“All of these small instances made me feel more scared with antisemitism rather than one big moment,” Goldstein said. “I think these moments made me feel scared like something was potentially going to happen, which is a feeling I have never let go of.”


The Anti-Defamation League aims to slow and stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all. Each year, the ADL records the number of antisemitic incidents in the United States.

In 2021, there were 2,717 reported incidents of antisemitism. This includes different types of incidents like harassment, vandalism and assault. In 2022, there were 3,697 reported incidents of antisemitism. This represents a 36% increase of incidents in only one year.

If we look at just North Carolina, in 2019 there were 20 reported incidents of antisemitism. In 2022, the number increased by 95% to 39 reported incidents.

Although the ADL receives a few thousand reports a year, many antisemitic interactions occur daily that go unreported.


Elijah Weinstein said he started embracing his Judaism more in high school. He would wear a kippah, a Jewish headpiece worn to fulfill the customary requirement of the head being covered, every day. 

Having grown up in Raleigh, North Carolina, Elijah said there weren’t many Jewish people there. However, while wearing the kippah, he’d still get the occasional “shalom,” which he liked.

Elijah helps teach about Jewish culture by being the Vice President of the UNC Asheville Hillel. “Hillel’s goal is to educate people both Jewish and non-Jewish about Jewish culture, as well as the rituals and practices,” Weinstein said.

While hanging out with his friend at a park in Raleigh about a year ago, Elijah said their spirits were high. That is, until drunk men decided to make comments about his kippah. They used the word “kike” which refers to an ethnic slur for a Jewish person. Things like “fuck you kike” sent shivers down Elijah’s spine.

“I was in full panic shock mode,” Weinstein said. “Whenever I recount this story, I can start to feel those same feelings again. I cried when I got back to the car.”

Elijah felt shocked and confused, and this event made him decide to stop wearing his kippah in public. 

“I had a lot of self-consciousness about it already and this event made me feel like it’s not worth it if I’m going to constantly feel unsafe and debate wearing it,” Weinstein said.

For Elijah, UNCA continues to be a place where he feels comfortable embracing his Judaism. “The people here have been very wonderful,” Weinstein said. “We’ve had a lot of support, even from non-Jewish people, and I really have not felt any antisemitism here.”


Rochelle Reich moved to Asheville in 2004 after growing up near Boston, Massachusetts. Before becoming the executive director of the Beth Israel Synagogue in 2020, Reich worked at the Jewish Community Center as the director of community life and Jewish learning.

“I’ve dealt with about 30 antisemitic attacks of varying degrees in the last six years at schools in the area,” Reich said.

One example Rochelle referenced occurred at A.C. Reynolds High School. “A couple of kids walking down the hall did the Hitler salute,” Reich said. “The A.C. Reynolds administration did reach out to me about how to fix the situation.”

Shock and anxiety filled the JCC after the bomb threat in 2017; people felt concerned for their safety and other’s contemplated taking their kids out of the daycare.

“I heard a non-Jewish mother say one time ‘I think I am going to pull my kid out of the JCC. I didn’t think it was going to be so dangerous to put my children in with the Jews.’ It’s not antisemitism, but it definitely didn’t feel good,” Reich said.

Rochelle felt a lot of anxiety. Since she worked at the JCC, she felt responsible for the safety of everyone there.

“I also had anxiety because I was worried for the safety of my children and for myself,” Reich said. “There’s also the general anxiety knowing that there are people in this world who want to target others who are different from themselves.”