Penny S. Tee
May You Live in Peace, שלום and سلام.

2024 Passover: The Chains of Fear Pull Tight Around Jews

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Tomorrow begins Passover, lasting for eight days. Passover is supposed to be a celebration of freedom. The Jews were delivered from slavery in Egypt and brought by Moses to Israel through a long journey. Of course, the Israel-Hamas War impacts our feelings to want to celebrate, and this year the story seems to cause us Jews to ponder what freedom is, closer to home.

Being an American Jew, I’m used to living in freedom. I live where I want, I used to attend services when I want without a care for my safety, and do what I want as long as the funds are available.

If I remember my early education, the First Amendment Rights in the United States Constitution says we can practice our religion, and no one can stop us from exercising these rights. Some of these inalienable rights are:

  • To worship or refrain from worshipping within a freely chosen religion
  • To be secure in one’s home
  • To think freely

For years as Jews, we tried to live amongst the majority and sometimes feel almost equal, but not quite. Then, October 7th.  Societies’ putrid undergrowth was emboldened to reveal what was under their sick lab coats, freely flashing their antisemitism.

Now if you aren’t Jewish, you might be surprised to learn that attending Jewish services, in the United States feels a bit like going through a checkpoint in Israel. Cars follow a coned-off path with security guards as you enter the parking lot, as well as the building. Depending on the situation, sometimes our purses are checked. I always breathe a sigh of relief as the guard nods at us when he recognizes my husband and me as we pull into the parking lot. But sometimes there’s a new guard at the door, looking us up and down to assess whether we are a threat.

Our synagogues have had to hire additional security for the protection of their congregations. Now this isn’t for a few scattered here or there, it’s prevalent among  Jewish synagogues. The issue has put us on edge over the years, but since October 7th, the number of warnings for synagogues regarding the potential for danger to their congregations has increased exponentially.

The latest warning from FBI Director Christopher Wray as Passover, our celebration of freedom, approaches:

“Between October 7 and January 30 of this year, we opened over three times more anti-Jewish hate crime investigations than in the four months before October 7,” said Wray, who noted raw statistics about investigations represent “very real threats to your institutions, to your houses of worship, to your schools and university organizations, and to the individuals in your communities simply for being who you are.”1

There is not cheery news from the Anti-defamation League either in their 2023 report: “In 2023, ADL tabulated 8,873 antisemitic incidents across the United States. This represents a 140% increase from the 3,698 incidents recorded in 2022 and is the highest number on record since ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979. In fact, ADL tracked more incidents in 2023 than in the previous three years combined.2

Incidents increased in all major Audit categories. Assault incidents increased by 45% to 161 incidents, vandalism increased 69% to 2,177 incidents and harassment increased 184% to 6,535 incidents.3

The dramatic increase in incidents took place primarily in the period following the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. Between October 7 and the end of 2023, ADL tabulated 5,204 incidents — more than the incident total for the whole of 2022. Fifty-two percent of the incidents after October 7 (2,718) included references to Israel, Zionism or Palestine.4

However, even prior to October 7, there were monthly increases in February (402), March (471), April (432), May (437) and September (513). Each of these months broke the prior record for most incidents recorded in a single month, set in November 2022 (394). 5

After October 7, ADL observed explicitly antisemitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric at 1,352 anti-Israel rallies across the United States. Leaving out all Israel-related incidents, antisemitic incidents still rose by 65% to 5,711 over the 3,457 non-Israel-related incidents recorded in 2022.6

Antisemitic incidents also increased year-over-year in all major location categories. Incidents at K-12 schools increased by 135% to 1,162 incidents. Incidents at Jewish institutions jumped by 237% to 1,987, driven mostly by massive waves of hoax threats directed at synagogues and other institutions in the summer, fall and winter. And incidents on college and university campuses spiked by a staggering 321% to 922 incidents, most of which occurred after the October 7 terrorist attacks.7

ADL’s 2023 Audit numbers contain 1,350 incidents included due to a post-October 7 methodology update (see Major Findings below). Excluding incidents included under the methodology update, ADL tabulated 7,523 incidents, a 103% increase in antisemitic incidents from the incident total in 2022.”8

Growing dangers prevail on our campuses for our Jewish young adults, and now my anger is hard to contain.

Rabbi Buechler, director of the Orthodox Jewish Learning Initiative, said the university and New York police could not guarantee students’ safety.9

“It deeply pains me to say that I would strongly recommend you return home as soon as possible and remain home until the reality in and around campus has dramatically improved,” she said in a text message.10

“It is not our job as Jews to ensure our own safety on campus. No one should have to endure this level of hatred, let alone at school.”11

Are you kidding me? Our kids who are doing nothing wrong are the ones who are being asked to leave? I don’t know if TOI Blogs will be mad and take this out but, WTF? I thought the police were supposed to help preserve these rights, didn’t you?

And at my own alma mater, the University of Southern California. I received both my undergrad and MBA there. The big controversy? Asna Tabassum, a valedictorian, was initially selected as the speaker for the commencement ceremony and her invitation was later rescinded.

Now, if you don’t know, I’ve spent the last decade working on Peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The struggles and suffering of both sides are something that we all should learn about and not support. But what was the administration thinking? It was reported in the Guardian, Tabassum has posted that “at the top of her Instagram account, a link directs users to a slideshow encouraging readers “to learn about what’s happening in Palestine and how to help”. The presentation also advocates for “one Palestinian state”, saying that “would mean Palestinian liberation and the complete abolishment of the state of Israel”. There you have it. How would this be accomplished? Israeli Jews just aren’t going to go quietly into the night and hand them their homes’ keys.

That is a disturbing representation of what Tabassum supports. NBC News described Tabassum as a first-generation south Asian American Muslim from Chino Hills – a city east of Los Angeles – in her fourth year as a biomedical engineering student. She has also been pursuing a minor in resistance to genocide. Excuse me, shouldn’t they continue that sentence? Well, I will…

“A minor in resistance to genocide?” Boy, I’d like to be a fly on the wall of that classroom. Resistance is the term applied to October 7th. You know — when women were gang raped in front of their husbands and children before the husbands were killed, their breasts cut off and thrown around as the Hamas perpetrators laughed and played catch, and dead bodies were also raped. I won’t go on, you get the picture, the atrocities perpetrated were despicable and undeniable. These scenes were what they proudly planned, filmed and called their parents who praised their actions of resistance. What happened on that day was not resistance, it was evil.

Genocide is the intentional destruction of a people in whole or in part. I understand why some claim what Israel is doing is genocide. Obviously, genocide is abhorrent and wrong. But isn’t supporting the “complete abolishment of the state of Israel,” also to be considered genocide? I don’t recall the definition claiming that if you are Jewish, it’s ok, even though, we’ve been there before.

The real mistake was made by USC’s administration in asking her to speak from the beginning. Jewish students worked just as hard to earn their degrees. The students and their parents attending the ceremony are there to celebrate their accomplishments on this special day. Why should they have to listen to an attack on Israel? I agree with free speech, but a graduation ceremony is not the place to share these one-sided opinions. There are plenty of places to do so, but a graduation ceremony is not one of them. I also wouldn’t support a Jewish or Israeli student giving a speech to support the Israeli side of the war. Let both sides enjoy the celebration with their families.

With what’s happening throughout our college campuses, the fear of violence, made the decision for them. Now once again, the tactic is to claim this was merely an issue of free speech. Obviously, some forget to tell the whole truth.

What about the lecture in February, when “a protest against an event organized by Jewish students at the University of California, Berkeley, resulted in police evacuating the speaker – who was from Israel – as well as the attendees at the gathering. This was after demonstrators broke through the doors that were violently interrupted by pro-Palestinians”?  The violence on campus is reprehensible.

I’ve said this before, but IMO it warrants repeating. If I were an Israeli parent sending my adult child off to war, I’d understand that fear was part of the package. But why as Jewish parents, instead of just feeling proud, do we also have to clutter our minds with fear for their safety? The administrations don’t seem to have a clue what to do, fear being accused of denying free speech, and the police when called in don’t seem to do much better. I promise you if any innocent Muslim kids were being attacked, I’d feel the same way. Campuses must become more educated about this problem. It’s been happening for years. There must be experts who know how to identify when the situations are about to get out of hand and to do something to prevent it.

I feel sorry for the college students. How do you take tests and finals in this atmosphere? It’s out in the open now. More people know about the problem. So now, let’s fix it, administrators!

BTW, if you haven’t downloaded your free copy of our Peace Haggadah that we just wrote, check out my last Times of Israel Blog to get a copy. I’d love to hear what you think. In the video above is an explanation of the Peace Haggadah as well as some recommendations as to how to use it.

May You Live in Peace, שלום and .سالم


1 “FBI on alert for threats to the Jewish community ahead of Passover, director says,” CNN, by Jospeech,pbell, April 21, 2024,

2-8 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2023, ADL, Audit of Antisemitic Incidents 2023 | Center on Extremism (

9-11 “Rabbi urges Jewish students at Columbia to leave campus as protests escalate,” The Telegraph, Story by David Millward, April 21, 2024,

12 “Backlash as USC cancels valedictorian’s speech over support for Palestine,” The Guardian, Ramon Antonio Vargas and Abené Clayton, April 16, 2024,

About the Author
Penny S. Tee is a vodcaster, speaker, author, and educator. She interviews Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, together forging a better future. Why? Read her book, “BLASTED from COMPLACENCY: A Journey from Terror to Transformation in Israel,” which describes her 2014 family vacation in Israel—daily touring sacred places, and cowering in bomb shelters at night. The missiles blew up her comfortable world—today she devotes her life to Peace.
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