ST. PETERSBURG — Michael Igel gets emotional when thinking about the Jewish community in Tampa Bay. He thinks of his parents, of his friends, of his neighbors, and it’s their resilience that touches him most.
On Saturday, a group of people stood on a Pinellas Trail overpass at Park Street and Tyrone Boulevard and held Nazi flags and handwritten signs about abortion. And over the summer, a group has repeatedly left antisemitic flyers on doorsteps in Tampa Bay neighborhoods.
Deputies with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office watched the gathering Saturday, a spokesperson for the agency said. However, no laws were broken and no one was arrested.
Those involved in the gathering Saturday think this is an opportunity to be seen, said Igel, the board chairperson of the Florida Holocaust Museum. But most people aren’t interested in it, and most people find it distasteful and detestable, he said.
“It’s not an opportunity for those people, but it’s an opportunity for us,” Igel said.
Igel points to the museum and its efforts to educate Tampa Bay and Florida.
The museum routinely holds teacher trainings on how best to teach the Holocaust to students. In addition, the museum arranges for survivors of the Holocaust to meet with kids across Florida to share their stories.
The St. Petersburg Police Department and other law enforcement agencies also work with the museum when incidents such as the one on Saturday occur. The museum has also created trainings for law enforcement from all over the Southeast to discuss the lessons of the Holocaust, Igel said.
“Every one of these items is a tool in our kit to bring the community together,” Igel said. “And people show up, they do care.”
Igel says the Jewish community is aware of a statistical rise in antisemitic behavior across the nation.
The Anti-Defamation League recorded a 34% increase in antisemitic incidents across the United States in 2021 — the largest increase since the organization began tracking these incidents in 1979.
However, incidents of hate are not new to the Jewish community. They’re thousands of years old, Igel said.
“I feel more than anything resilience and the fact that we’re better than this as an overall community,” Igel said. “We all know that.”
Igel says support from all of Tampa Bay is necessary in these instances of hate to show these people that they are on the fringe of the community.
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“There’s always going to be bad people, but there will always be more good people overshadowing and making more noise than the bad people,” Igel said.