On Friday, Feb. 17, a group affiliated with the antisemitic group named "the Goyim Defense League" stood at the entrance of Chabad of South Orlando and confronted Jews who were passing by. The protestors flashed Hitler salutes, screamed at the Jews and waved hateful signs. A similar incident took place in May 2022 as well.
Rabbi Yosef Konikov, Director of Chabad of South Orlando, said to Israel National News that the protestors were talking exactly how he would expect the Nazis in Nazi Germany to speak, "with venom in their eyes and the hate in every word coming out of their mouths.”
“It was quite scary. They wanted to get into a fight. They weren’t just there demonstrating with a sign. These guys were in attack mode, even though they were testing the limits of free speech.”
He said there were people who didn’t want to come to synagogue afterwards, and were even afraid to sleep at home. “They thought maybe these guys have a list of Jewish people in the neighorhood. It was quite scary for people.”
Speaking of the issue of the increase in worldwide antisemitism, particularly with hate groups, he says that they figured out how to be brazen and assume no one will stop them.
“They have their own following, so they are trying to create a trend,” he says. “Trying to make this idea as normal. When you see people yelling ‘You are the enemy of America’ and no one even blinks an eye.”
He adds that the police were at the demonstrations but they didn’t do anything. He believes it was because it was a free speech demonstration. But he says it was a mistake for police not to engage with the antisemites there.
“Now that this has gone viral and people have challenged the government… I think they started to think twice and I believe something will be done the next time.”
He notes that while this was one group, they are other groups out there.
“The real concern is not so much these guys, who are basically losers, they don’t have jobs, and someone’s paying them to do this, and they’re clearly a bit psycho when you see how they talk. When you look at their history you see they’re troubled people that were probably abused when they were younger or lacking basic familial conditions that normal people have,” he says.
“But the biggest concern is that there are other crazy people out there who never realized that you could do this kind of stuff, and they don’t understand the legalities of free speech and then they act on something crazier.”
He noted that the man who shot two Jews recently outside a synagogue in California was a follower of the hate group.
“If the government comes out and says, ‘Listen, I’m warning you, you better watch yourself because we’re watching you,’ then people may be afraid to act. But if they say nothing then we have a problem,” says Rabbi Konikov.
He hopes the Florida government is embarking on a legal pathway to stop hate groups from future actions in the state.
“I know that they are. I was in touch with the governor’s office. I was in touch with [lawmakers] and law enforcement. And they have all said they are working with their attorneys to find out what could be done,” he says.
“The impact that this group tried to make, they didn’t really accomplish that result they wanted. They wanted to scare the community. Yes, they scared people here and there. But they actually strengthened the community.”
Rabbi Konikov also mentions all the support he’s received from Jews from the Conservative and Reform synagogues in the area, and from non-Jews who showed up in large numbers with signs to say they supported the Jewish community and Israel.
“It actually generated a lot of support,” he says.