During the past few years, crimes against different populations in the U.S. have become highly visible, including antisemitic incidents such as the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Now, the FBI’s Hate Crimes Unit is conducting an outreach campaign asking Jews to report antisemitic incidents. While Sarah Imhoff, an IU associate professor of religious studies, is not surprised the FBI now wants to address antisemitism, she says the FBI has a complicated history with Jews, supporting the idea of Judaism as a religion, but not necessarily American Jews themselves. Officially founded in 1935, the FBI was designed to take on domestic crime and surveillance. By the late 1940s, driven by Cold War ideals, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover bolstered an image of the U.S. as religious and moral, in contrast to its enemy the Soviet Union, and embraced Judaism. Claiming a “Judeo-Christian” heritage for the United States, as became popular in the 1950s, supported the Cold War cause in another way too. It subtly referred to both God and democracy, and implied that both were on the side of Americans. But Imhoff says there was a complication to the FBI’s embrace of Judaism. By the 1950s, U.S. Jews had a long history with the political left, including support of the Socialist and Communist parties, which the FBI saw as threats. FBI officials and records associated Jews with communism. Imhoff says these associations had sometimes devastating effects. Internal FBI workings also demonstrated assumptions about Jews and communism as well as strategic sympathy to anti-Jewish prejudice. Imhoff says the FBI today is hardly the same organization that it was during the Cold War, but its sympathies for Judaism do have historical resonance. Now, the FBI’s Hate Crimes Unit is conducting an outreach campaign in Yiddish, Hebrew, and English asking Jews to report antisemitic incidents. Imhoff says this should come as no surprise – especially because some antisemitic attacks in the U.S. have taken place in religious spaces. For many, the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh looked like an attack on America because it was an attack on Judaism, even on religion. Outreach to Hasidim – the American Jews who look the most religious – has become one way the FBI wants to stop those attacks.
In other news, a partnership between IUPUI researchers and faith organizations in Indianapolis, Indiana, is taking aim at household lead contamination by providing residents the tools they need to protect against it. Part of the Center for Urban Health at IUPUI's long-term effort to map lead levels across the city, the project will provide lead test kits to residents on the northwest side of the city. The kits will give participants free, reliable lab results on potential lead exposure in their homes -- information that is often out of reach due to barriers such as cost and lack of education on the risks of lead. The tests' results will also contribute to anonymous public data on household lead levels across Indianapolis through the center's Map My Environment website, the first time the website will contain data on lead levels in water. Gabriel Filippelli, director of the Center for Urban Health at IUPUI, says while there are regulations about the allowable amount of lead in water, there’s no safe level of lead. It's a neurotoxin that permanently impairs the brain, he says, which results in markedly lower IQ and higher ADD/ADHD in children who are lead-poisoned. The risks of exposure are especially serious in infants and toddlers. Additionally, it has been consistently found that lead testing rates are significantly lower in communities of color and the poisoning rates are significantly higher, Filippelli says. The project's focus on tap water is significant since lead contamination is most common in homes with aging infrastructure, such as lead pipes, which can lose the protective mineral layer that prevents heavy metals from leeching into drinking water. The collection effort builds upon previous work from the Center for Urban Health, which has offered free soil analysis since 2012 and free dust analysis since 2018.