Partners In Torah of Cleveland Rabbi Pinchas Landis was the victim of a Zoombombing on Aug. 25 while teaching a Jewish history class.
“The topic for that night was the development of reform and conservative and Orthodox movements,” Landis told the Cleveland Jewish News.
He noted the class was held on Zoom and live streamed on Facebook, as has been standard for most of his classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Landis estimated about 30 people were watching that night.
“People from all across the community, different walks of life and Jewish life participate in our programs,” Landis said.
What started with anti-Semitic comments led to Landis’ screen being taken over by the Zoombomber.
“When it happened, right away, my reaction was to jump and try to get them off, to kick them out of the room,” Landis said. “Even when we thought we had everybody out, there was one more that came and started doing that again, that we had missed in the process.”
Once the troll was out of the room, Landis said his first instinct was to continue the class. He soon realized the experience was more troubling for his students than himself.
“They experienced a lot more than I had, and after the class, after talking to everybody, a lot of people were really shaken up,” Landis said. “In my head, in the moment, I was just trying to get past this.”
He said he debriefed the participants of his next class. He also reached out to Jim Hartnett, director of community wide security for JFC Security, LLC, the security arm of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland in Beachwood, and to the Anti-Defamation League.
“I found out how commonplace this is now, unfortunately, because both Jim and ADL said, ‘This is terrible, this keeps happening,’” Landis said. “This is not a unique thing. This is a common thing.”
Landis said one participant insisted on sending the recording to the FBI.
The FBI told him “the incident doesn’t fit the profile of a hate crime that they’ll explore or try and press charges on the perpetrators,” said Landis, noting he would not be able to find or identify those responsible without help from the domestic intelligence and security service.
“We subsequently just tightened up how we did the class,” Landis said. “Before this, I was just putting the links for the class all over the place, because I thought we were removing friction and making it as easy for people to participate as possible.”
Those who would like to watch Landis teach now must register for his classes before receiving an emailed link and password to attend. They also must be approved in the waiting room prior to being admitted.
“This is definitely a sign of the times of rising anti-Semitism and the fact the that the world is becoming even more digital and more remote,” he said. “The pandemic has just made it so that they’ve taken all their hate and put it online where they were definitely very active before.”
At the end of the day, Landis said “evil” always targets “good.”
“The message I teach is that we shouldn’t be scared off by it,” Landis said. “It shouldn’t drive us away from wanting to be Jewish. It should drive us closer to wanting to be Jewish. They’re only going after us because we’re doing good things in the world and therefore we should continue to do good things in the world.”