Editor’s Note: CNN recently asked Arabs, Muslims and Jews in America how they are facing the new reality of hate-motivated attacks against their communities. Read how Arabs and Muslims in America say they have been impacted.
Melissa Franklin has always decorated her home for Hanukkah – proudly hanging a Star of David on her porch and placing her family’s menorah in the front window.
This year, however, will be different.
“I just can’t see us doing it because I don’t want retaliation,” Franklin said. “I don’t want vandalism on my home.”
In the weeks since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, hate crimes and antisemitism have spiked across the United States.
Jewish synagogues and community centers have increased security amid threats of violence, protests have erupted on college campuses, and a 69-year-old Jewish man, Paul Kessler, died in Southern California following a confrontation at dueling protests over the war. A pro-Palestinian protester has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and battery causing serious bodily injury in Kessler’s death. He has pleaded not guilty. A statement from his attorney called his actions that day “peaceful.”
Franklin said the surge in antisemitism has made her feel uncomfortable making any public display of her Jewish identity, or her support for Israel.
Melissa Franklin poses for a portrait at her home on November 8.
Leaders from the Jewish Federations of North America acknowledged there is widespread fear among Jewish families. Sarah Eisenman, chief community and Jewish life officer for the organization, said she empathizes with Jewish Americans who are changing their normal routines or hiding markers of their Jewish heritage to avoid being targeted.
“I do think they are rightfully fearful,” Eisenman said. “I think it’s a scary environment right now and we should all be outraged at what we are seeing.”
CNN recently asked Arabs, Muslims and Jews in America how they are facing the new reality of increased hate-motivated attacks against their communities. Nearly 800 people responded from across the country.
Some Jewish Americans told CNN they are now hiding their kippahs, refusing to wear their Star of David necklaces and changing long-held traditions for religious holidays.
Some practicing Jews have said they are even afraid to visit one of the most sacred places in their faith — the synagogue — out of fear of being killed, attacked or harassed because of their religion. These are their stories.
Michael Edelman says he constantly checks the news for updates about the war.
Michael Edelman said his mother has always warned him not to expose his kippah — a head covering traditionally worn by Jewish men — on public transportation in New York City.
“My mother would always tell me ‘Please wear a hat when you go on the trains,’” Edelman said, adding she feared he could be attacked or targeted for his religious beliefs.
For years, Edelman, 25, said he ignored his mother’s concerns.
But as the Israel-Hamas war continues to drive a surge in antisemitism in the US, he said he’s taking her advice more seriously.
Now, every time he leaves the house, Edelman said he puts a baseball cap over his kippah.
A surge in hate
“People say you should be proud and not be afraid, but overall, I think it’s smarter to wear a hat (over my kippah),” he said.
Edelman said the news reports of antisemitic attacks and anti-Israel protests have also made him more mindful of his surroundings in public. He has stopped wearing headphones while walking, so he can hear if someone is approaching.
Earlier this year, Edelman graduated from Yeshiva University, but he said seeing the haunting images on TV of the Israel-Hamas war — especially images of victims and the widespread destruction — has made him so anxious he has struggled to focus on applying for jobs.
“It’s been hard to focus I’m not going to lie,” Edelman said. “I check the news 24/7.”
In recent weeks, he said he’s avoided parts of New York where rallies are taking place, in case violence erupts. He also avoids walking near the Columbia University campus where tensions have simmered after a student was assaulted while hanging up posters in support of Israel. New York police charged another student with assault and harassment as a hate crime.
One thing the war will not stop him from doing, Edelman said, is going to his synagogue to pray — it gives him comfort during a difficult time.
“We pray for peace constantly,” Edelman said. “We pray three times a day.”
Elliot Malin says he worries for his family’s safety.
Elliot Malin has proudly worn a Star of David necklace his entire life.
But after protests erupted in his Reno, Nevada, community and he learned of attacks against Jews across the country, he decided to take it off.
In October, Malin said demonstrators at a pro-Palestine rally yelled antisemitic obscenities at him.
Malin, a 31-year-old political consultant, said he attended the rally to make sure Jewish community members were not putting themselves at risk and chose not to engage with the demonstrators. But the threats have had a chilling effect.
“I know that I am a very visible member of the community, but my wife is not as visible. My parents are not as visible, and I am afraid for them,” he said.
Now, Malin and his family are considering removing their Mezuzah – a sacred scroll that blesses a home – from their doorpost. Malin said someone drew a swastika on the light post in front of his house in 2016. He now worries it could happen again.
“What we are seeing is a lot more danger and a lot more fear,” he said. “We are just trying to protect ourselves as much as we can.”
But his past experiences have made him more worried about his family’s safety.
Malin said he has been to a synagogue only once since the war started and has no immediate plans to return. Although there were armed security guards present, he said he still felt uneasy.
“We can’t pray without armed police presence,” he said. “We can’t go to our synagogues without somebody being there with guns. In what world would this be acceptable for any other religion? Some of our Muslim neighbors have to deal with the same thing and it’s not fair to them either.”
Melissa Franklin holds her Star of David necklace.
Although Melissa Franklin has chosen not to decorate her house for Hanukkah, the Phoenix-area mother said her biggest concern lately has been the safety of her four college-aged children.
Franklin, 50, said she has asked them to hide anything that represents their Jewish identity including their Star of David necklaces and her son’s Hebrew tattoo.
“It’s like, ‘Don’t go out of your way to be publicly Jewish,’ and that’s really sad,” Franklin said.
She’s particularly worried about her children being caught in the middle of the dueling protests that have erupted on college campuses across the country.
The climate on the campuses, she said, is “terrifying and too much to bear.”
Franklin hasn’t felt safe going to Jewish community events or her synagogue, despite security being in place.
“Honestly, I just don’t feel comfortable,” she said. “I don’t want to orphan my kids because I was naïve enough to go and think that nothing would happen to me.”
As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Franklin said she never imagined a mass attack on Israel in her lifetime.
The world vowed “never again,” and Franklin said she always hoped that the mass killing and attacks on Jews would not be repeated.
“You feel this insulation from the terror the past generation has gone through – but it’s just a false sense of security,” she said.