A synagogue defaced, a storefront window broken, a Jewish mother harassed on the street, Jewish blood spilled on the ground. A dark cloud has rolled in and is hovering above the heads of all Jews. There is fear and worry and uncertainty. It can be felt in every shul, school, home, and market. It is palpable and it is warranted.
The recent attacks in our communities, including Monsey, Jersey City, and Brooklyn have shaken many people to their core. Just this week, hate made it into our own backyards when a Jewish family in Hillcrest awoke to find their vehicle defaced by swastikas and profanities. Attacks on Jews is not a new phenomenon, they are so common that a significant portion of Jewish history and Jewish identity is tied to the mistreatment and violence against Jews. The frequency of assaults on the Jewish people is not a call for acceptance of them. They have no place in our community, our state, or our country.
Twenty thousand people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, not merely because of sympathy or sensitivity towards the victims, but because these recent attacks have shown that the suffering is in each one of us. There is a mutual connection of pain each and every time one of these horrific events takes place.
Some have put forth theories that if the Jewish community were more cognizant of their actions and deeds, these incidents would be less likely to transpire – that Jews, especially those who adorn garments that show their devoutness to their religion, should try to be friendlier, more honest in their business dealings, and be more respectful of the communities they live in. This is victim-blaming of the highest order. Anti-Semitism has never needed an excuse.
There are politicians and community leaders who are more than willing to attend a rally, take a photo, or give an interview condemning anti-Semitism. If those actions are not coupled with concrete steps and measures, then those words will ring hollow. I, along with Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato, have called on the State Legislature this year to double the budget for security for nonpublic schools. We are being outspent by neighboring states by a large margin. This is unacceptable; we know we must do better. No parent should have to worry about their children being targets of hate. Children can only grow if they are taught and nurtured in a safe sanctuary.
The number of people who can maintain vigilance far outnumbers the cameras or police officers on the street; we are all our own first line of defense. Community involvement is crucial. Every local police precinct has monthly Community Council meetings where residents can ask questions, get information, and have a sense of what is being done to protect them. My local precinct, the 107th, commanded by the venerable Deputy Inspector Scott Henry, has done an outstanding job of reaching out to our community. More help, more suggestions, and more participation are always welcomed and encouraged. The 107th Precinct has nine Neighborhood Coordination Officers (NCOs), whose sole purpose is to know the communities they cover intimately and engage on as local a level as possible. Their names and email addresses are all publicly available on the 107th Precinct’s website.
We must be wary of the paths fear can lead us down; it is imperative to remember that, in an effort to help the Jewish community, we cannot trample on others, even unintentionally. Freedom of religion is a bedrock guaranteed right of every person in the United States. If you need an armed guard watching you every time you cover your eyes with a prayer shawl, how truly free are you? The government cannot say they have done enough to fight anti-Semitism if locked doors, handguns, and surveillance are still deemed necessary.
Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, Professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University, has a growing dread of where the track of living in fear can lead. She looks at the synagogues of Europe with apprehension, being guarded by soldiers with machine guns, deliberately not posting the times of prayer and requiring visitors to show passports and explaining themselves before being allowed entrance. Men wear baseball caps instead of yarmulkes and use knapsacks in lieu of talis bags. Professor Lipstadt argues that those who try to fortress off their religion or try to scrub themselves of Jewish identity in the name of defense are in danger of becoming modern day Marranos.
I wear a yarmulke to work every day, and I have a name that is religiously identifiable; however, I do not consider myself, nor do I want to be, the “Jewish” politician. Despite my wishes, in today’s environment, my identity makes me a target. It may be tempting to remove my yarmulke when I walk into a room, but it is never going to be an option for me. To be clear, this is not out of bravado or courage; those accolades should be given to others. My conviction not to change who I am is driven by my faith. We do everything in our power to keep ourselves safe; but after that, faith is what endures.
By Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal