MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (DC News Now) — Community leaders in Maryland’s largest county are taking steps to protect houses of worship and faith-based communities against images of hate.
Over the course of one weekend, three reports of antisemitic drawings were made at three different Montgomery County public schools: Thomas J. Wootton High School, Silver Creek Middle School, and Tilden Middle School.
A fourth incident has been reported, this time at Magruder High School, and all of these incidents happened in the span of around two weeks and all before the end of the first month of 2023.
Florence Kanneh has three children in the Montgomery County Public School system. She says after the most recent incident at Magruder and the shooting last year, she’s scared for their safety, especially that of her son who attends Magruder, as well as her own as incidents continue to rise.
“I don’t remember growing up around here with it being that bad,” Kanneh said. “As an adult now seeing it, knowing that this is where my kids are growing up, it can happen anywhere; church, synagogue, mosque, it can happen anywhere, it’s scary.”
In 2021, 143 bias incidents were reported to Montgomery County Police, a 22 percent increase from the year before according to the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. The county is now granting more money to increase protection for organizations that have experienced hate crimes or are considered to be high-risk.
Faith-based and other community leaders joined Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich to announce and celebrate the latest round of funding to prevent hate crimes under the county’s Nonprofit Security Grants program. The program will distribute $800,000 to local nonprofit and faith-based organizations across the county that have experienced hate crimes or are considered at high risk.
“Obviously, the needs are greater than $800,000, and I would expect that they’ll be enhanced in this budget soon to help us further address the needs of users in the community,” County Executive Marc Elrich said.
The funding can be used to increase security personnel, planning measures, and even cameras at eligible organizations. County Executive Elrich alongside other community leaders encouraged people to speak up and not let hateful rhetoric or incidents go unreported, saying that money alone isn’t enough to fight hate crimes.
This money will not get to the root cause of it. you know we can build protection and we can build barriers around things,” County Executive Elrich said. “The only way this is going to stop is if we confront it in our communities, live and in person, and take on the people who are fostering this in our communities. You cannot hide from this.”
Ellie Lichtash, the executive director of Alef Bet Montessori School, recalls a harrowing incident in January of 2019 where two men unlawfully entered an open house at the school, screaming antisemitic remarks.
“I’ll never forget that night, they were screaming top of their lungs, “You Jewish you get out of here! You are going to make all of us Jewish!'” Lichtash recalled.
Lichtash recalled other incidents that have happened at her Montessori where windows have been broken and hateful messages have been written on the school. She has used money from the grant program to install security cameras in and around the school but says she also fears for children in public schools as incidents of antisemitism continue to rise.
“So if this is happening with our children in public school, we need to nip it in the bud,” Lichtash said. “We need to educate, we need to come forward, we need to speak out, we can’t sit silently in place of ‘it’s just unacceptable in our society.'”
County Executive Elrich condemned the hateful acts, saying people need to stand up against hate crimes.
“We’ve had so many people and disturbing incidents, that it’s hard not to act”County Executive Marc Elrich
Leaders from the Montgomery County Police Department, Fire & Rescue Explosive Investigations Unit, and others will be holding a seminar to teach faith leaders how to minimize the risk of violent intruders and how to respond in the event of an attack. The workshop will be held on Wednesday, February 15th at 7 p.m., and registration is required. People who are interested in attending must email Interfaith@MontgomeryCountyMD.gov.