Less than a week after Sen. Chuck Schumer and Gov. Kathy Hochul attended a community forum on anti-Semitism at the Lincoln Square Synagogue in Manhattan, the Jewish community of West Hempstead had its own forum, hosting Nassau County Legislator John Giuffre.
“The Young Israel of West Hempstead wanted to hear what we’re doing to stop anti-Semitism, so I invited Legislator Giuffre to speak,” said Avi Posnick, the Northeast Managing Director of the advocacy group StandWithUs. “The event was sponsored by all the local shuls, for all members of the community.”
Elected last year to represent the district covering West Hempstead, Giuffre serves with Posnick on the Legislative Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism, which promotes policies and resources at combating this expression of hate. “My personal belief is that faith communities must stand together,” he told the audience. “It is important that this statement come from as broad a community as possible, not only from the Jewish community.”
He noted that his first encounter with the Jewish community of West Hempstead was not related to anti-Semitism. Israel Spiegel called him in regarding the crossing signal outside the Young Israel, complaining that many drivers ignore its blinking yellow light. “Advance warning lights will go up within 200 feet of this crosswalk.” He added that, along with Hempstead Avenue, he is aware of the dangerous conditions for pedestrians on Woodfield Road.
Gregg Goldenberg, the security coordinator for the Young Israel of West Hempstead, spoke about his organization, Community Security Service. “We see most of them happen in front of Jewish institutions,” he said about hate incidents. “Now is the time to join CSS. It takes a four-hour self-paced course.”
Rabbi Joshua Goller, the rav of the Young Israel of West Hempstead, said that growing up in this community, he heard stories of anti-Semitic incidents from his father, but rarely did they occur during his adolescence. “Now everybody knows somebody who encountered anti-Semitism,” he said.
Posnick then spoke of the mission behind StandWithUs. “You’re never going to have the end of all crime. With anti-Semitism, we want to knock it down fast.” His organization provides resources to combat anti-Semitism and support Israel. It was founded in 2001 during the Second Intifada, when Dr. Roz Rothstein, a family therapist in Southern California, felt that the Jewish community was unprepared to confront hate speech and incidents.
“We heard how Jewish and pro-Israel students were being harassed. We teach high school and college students how to proactively educate their peers, and we’ve started working in middle schools, as well. StandWithUs is active on six continents.”
When asked to provide examples of how it combats anti-Semitism on college campuses, Posnick spoke of near 200 lawyers who provided their time pro bono to assist StandWithUs.
“Last year there was a Zoom meeting of a college in California. The Jewish student could not get into the meeting.” The student asked a friend who was in the meeting for an explanation. “They’re publicly debating whether to let you in,” he was told. StandWithUs received a recording of this meeting and had its lawyers send a letter to the college accusing it of allowing discrimination against a Jewish student. “We got the Muslim Student Association on this campus suspended for three years for violating this student’s rights.”
Another example was a student whose dorm room mezuzah was removed. “The university wanted to brush it off. Our lawyers wrote a strongly worded letter.” The university quickly responded to StandWithUs and expelled the culprits out of the dorm, along with restraining orders to stay away from that Jewish student. “We make sure that students know what to do.”
Posnick said that, as universities take action on hate incidents relating to gender, race, and orientation, they should take anti-Semitism seriously. “We are asking for the same treatment.”
Concerning law enforcement agencies, Posnick said that anti-Semitism becomes a priority when they receive enough calls from the public about it – likewise with elected officials. “When that woman in Rockville Centre said anti-Semitic things, I emailed and called every elected official. It’s our job to let them know what we are expecting of them.”
Giuffre spoke of an incident shortly after he was sworn in this past January. “There was a person who broke into a shul with a gasoline can.” It wasn’t terrorism, but a homeless person who steals fuel. “I got the call, and I called the DA’s office. They responded right away.”
Posnick said that calls to elected officials, petitions, and attendance at public forums shows elected officials that the Jewish community demands action. He also encouraged the public to invite elected officials to community events.
Concerning allies, Posnick noted that Latino and Hindu students have been outspoken on confronting anti-Semitism. “At Rutgers University, the Hindu student group was the first to speak up after an incident. It was the result of outreach.”
Understanding the work of StandWithUs, West Hempstead resident Yechiel Palgon spoke about an incident at his workplace, a public school in Queens. “I reported a student who had a swastika drawn on his arm. It was someone’s idea. The school’s response was to do whatever was easier,” he said. The student was told to wash it off without any further action. “The students don’t know much about Jews.” Posnick said that had the school called StandWithUs, it would’ve received resources to educate the students about anti-Semitism.
“We can be that resource at no cost to the school,” Posnick said, “to prevent it from happening again.”
By Sergey Kadinsky