Before the April 27 shooting at Chabad of Poway in California, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of San Diego, Tammy Gillies, was told by her colleagues in law enforcement that it wasn’t a question of if a shooting would happen, but when.
“I heard that and I thought, ‘Yeah, OK, it’s a question of when.’ But until it happens in your town, you really don’t think it will,” Gillies said. After the Poway shooting, Gillies was one of several ADL representatives summoned to accompany law enforcement during victim interviews. “I walked into the command center and saw the chief, the sheriff, the special agent in charge from the FBI, people that I have been working with for years. When they looked at me, I saw the heartbreak in their eyes that this happened to my community.”
Gillies was the special guest speaker at ADL Arizona’s Town Hall on Anti-Semitism, which took place at Temple Solel on June 13. The event was moderated by ADL Arizona Regional board member Bradley Pack, and also featured law enforcement representatives from both the federal and local levels.
The shooting at the Chabad of Poway, which resulted in one death and three injuries, took place exactly six months after the Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha synagogue building massacre in Pittsburgh. After the attack in Poway, Gillies coordinated with local law enforcement to act as a liaison with the Jewish community.
“I was sent to the rabbi’s house and I was assisting law enforcement to interview the victims,” Gillies said in an interview before the town hall. “Talking to those folks, and allowing them to just talk about their experience, was the start of some healing and offers some small comfort.”
The Monday after the shooting, an estimated 4,000 people gathered for a community vigil at Poway High School to honor the victims and stand in solidarity. Gillies — who has been with ADL San Diego for 12 years and served as its regional director for 10 — was incredibly touched by the gathering. But even with communal acts of solidarity, Gillies said, it’s not easy to quell an understandable fear. Her advice to institutions is to find a balance between providing effective security while also being welcoming to the larger community.
“Right now everybody wants to create an armed fortress at their synagogue,” Gillies said. “The rise of anti-Semitism is the biggest concern people talk to me about right now. I know that here in Arizona, [the ADL] national audit of anti-Semitic incidents showed there was a 23% increase in 2018. I think we can speak up and shine a light on anti-Semitism by asking our leaders — whether it’s a rabbi or church leaders or our political leaders — to stand up and speak out.”
The ADL’s Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents: Year in Review, 2018 showed that Arizona has seen a rise in anti-Semitic behavior for the third year in a row.
Gillies believes that vigilance is the key to truly combating anti-Semitism. She told the audience to say something if they see something, and reminded her listeners that reporting an incident could help the police.
“Our biggest hurdle is finding out, but when we find out we pull out all the stops,” said Phoenix Police Detective Brandy Willingham, one of two detectives on the Phoenix Police Department’s bias crime unit. “If you can take anything away, it’s that if you see something, even if you think it’s not a crime, please call and report it.”
Willingham’s recommendation was echoed by the other speakers. Ashton Skinner, education director at ADL Arizona, told the audience how important communication is for preventing more tragedies. “We’d rather get all your calls about potential incidents than none at all. We don’t have the time, energy or capacity to be as vigilant on all these issues without your help.”
Skinner also presented different ways to combat anti-Semitism, from becoming involved in local politics to showing off some of the educational programs ADL offers schools, such as the No Place For Hate initiative.
Gillies appreciated that many people came to the town hall given that increasing anti-Semitism is a difficult subject to talk about. She added that focusing on the positives can help one deal with the negatives.
“It can be really discouraging and a little bit frightening,” Gillies told the audience. “For me, when I feel that way, I go out to one of our educational events and see what we’re doing with students, and I see how they want to make changes in their worlds and it inspires me. We can change hearts and minds. We can do this.” JN