There have been more than 10,000 Palestinian deaths according to the Gaza Health Ministry since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out a month ago. The deaths have led to retaliation against Jews living in America, whether it be on college campuses or at rallies. It's led to a palpable fear amongst some in the Jewish community who are now looking to protect themselves.
Josef didn't want us to give his last name for this story. His main fear, like the one shared by so many of his faith, is that there might be retaliation targeted at him, his family, or his congregation for the war in the Middle East.
"What we're concerned about is that we see some of these more targeted attacks — people really looking at who's involved in the Jewish community and what their position is in the Jewish community," Josef said.
It was only five years ago that 11 people died in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Since then, antisemitism has reached near historic levels in the United States. According to the FBI, even though Jews make up a little less than 2.5% of the U.S. population, more than 60% of religion-based hate crimes are targeted against them.
Since the war in the Middle East has reached a new level of intensity overseas, so too has backlash against Jews in the United States.
It's prompted many in the Jewish community to approach people like Josef, who's also Jewish and has a military background, so they can learn to better protect themselves and their neighbors.
"We don't want people to posture with their weapon. We're not out there to show off. This is not a show-off thing. People who have that attitude are the exact wrong people to be in this space," he said. "Did Oct. 7 make that danger feel more imminent? Where before it may have felt further away, but now it felt like you could be a threat? I think among that popular imagination that was true, but for people like myself — we were not surprised by what happened. The rise of White supremacists and their activities were a trigger for me at least to start this group."
The group Josef runs in Denver is called the Jewish Lead and Whiskey Society. There are other such groups in cities spanning from coast to coast so those in this community feel more secure amongst a level of hostility many of them have not felt before.
"We're training and we're ready and so they need to decide. I don't think that's a good calculus for them," he said.
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