A small group of Jewish federal employees who were dismayed by a rise in anti-Semitic harassment during the Trump administration held an impromptu gathering late last month in hopes of creating a community among like-minded Jewish federal workers.
Jennifer Wax, a former member of President Barack Obama’s administration who now works for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, said she felt a sense of déjà vu when she and others in the Jewish community heard about the rise in harassment in the federal workforce. Wax, who worked on data privacy and cybersecurity issues in the Obama administration, said a lot of things had changed under Trump and she realized the mood among Jewish federal employees had changed as well.
Wax said she was particularly disturbed by remarks from Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon which she found to be dismissive of some government employees’ concerns. Her frustration led her to create a Facebook group called “Jewish Federal Employees.”
“I realized there was a need for this,” Wax said. “We felt like we could not rely on the federal government.”
President Trump has been criticized frequently for his rhetoric about Muslims and immigrants. In the weeks after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 people last month, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted that, “Racism is evil. Hatred is wrong. And attacks on people because of who they are, what they believe, or how they look, are completely unacceptable.”
She added: “I think all Americans should stand together in condemning such evil and hateful acts as well as promoting an inclusive society, where prejudice and bigotry are absolutely unacceptable.”
Wax said she did not think there was anything inappropriate about Sanders’ statement. But she said Sanders was not widely understood.
“She was trying to offer the voice of a white male working class person to get herself out of that stereotype,” Wax said. “The idea that she can go into a bunch of Jewish families and address their concerns I thought was obviously an attempt at undoing it. I thought it was offensive.”
Wax had heard of several similar groups started by other Jewish federal employees who also worried about the harassment of their colleagues. But Wax said she wanted to start one specifically with Jews and that she felt that Jew-bashing was increasing across the board. She said it also encouraged other Jews to feel alienated.
Wax said she was worried that anti-Semitic attitudes in the general public could lead to retaliatory and criminal behavior against Jewish federal employees and said she was organizing with this concern in mind. In her Facebook group, she said, “It is super important for our small group to be a voice in condemning anti-Semitism and for our government to do better for its Jewish employees and their families.”
She said she also feels that the current climate would lead to some Jewish federal employees leaving the government. She cited a particular synagogue in D.C. where vandalism had recently been reported but the synagogue was close to her former home.
“We are all thinking about leaving our jobs because of this,” Wax said. “You’re going to have Jews leaving, and you’re going to lose the voices of these people.”
She said she didn’t think her group could solve all the problems faced by Jewish federal employees, but Wax said she hoped to create a connection to create a safe environment in which Jews could feel comfortable expressing their concerns.
“I do think it is a group of like-minded people,” Wax said. “It is a community group. We believe in the idea that we are going to make this happen for ourselves.”