Lynbrook, East Rockaway rabbis in favor of law that would teach students about hate

Mike Smollins for LI Herald

August 29, 2019

Originally published in Long Island Herald on August 29, 2019.

In response to several instances of hate crimes and anti-Semitism in the U.S., New York lawmakers recently announced legislation aimed at ensuring that “students are taught the hateful intolerance of the swastika and noose” and other symbols of hatred in order to educate them about the history of those symbols.

Rabbi Sandra Bellush, the spiritual leader of Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, said she would be in favor of the law.

“We need to do all we can to end hatred, bigotry and racism,” she said. “Our children need to learn, as early as possible, the importance of building bridges of understanding.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and State Assemblyman Charles Lavine announced the bill on Aug. 13. Kaminsky, Lavine, Sens. Kevin Thomas, Shelley Mayer and Anna Kaplan and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin sponsored it.

The law would require students in grades six through 12 to be taught about hate and intolerance. It would also direct the state education commissioner and the Board of Regents to design curricula for schools districts to implement.

Bellush said teaching those lessons to students is vital. “Learning that there are symbols that represent hate and oppression, and that those symbols should never be used, is an extremely important concept to teach in our schools,” she said.

Rabbi Andrew Warmflash, of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, commended Kaminsky for the legislation, but added that he did not think it went far enough.

“It isn’t only symbols of hatred that need to be put in their historical context so that students can understand how offensive and wrong they are,” he said. “It is also behavior like appearing in blackface and slurs like saying that Jews aren’t loyal citizens, have all the money and control the media.”

Kaminsky said that recent instances of anti-Semitism spurred the legislation. “Incidents of hatred and anti-Semitism have reared their ugly heads throughout our nation and across Nassau County,” he said. “It’s imperative that we educate our children on the repugnant meanings behind the swastika and noose as symbols of bigotry and intolerance.”

Singas said that the symbols “have been used to intimidate and threaten our neighbors and have no place in our communities,” and called education “a critical component” in preventing hate crimes in the future.

The legislation comes after seven 10-inch swastikas were found drawn in purple marker at a pavilion in Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in Oyster Bay earlier this month. County Executive Laura Curran derided those who vandalized the area to spread messages of hate.

“I am appalled at the symbols of hate recently found in Oyster Bay,” she said in a statement. “This type of vandalism is meant to intimidate and divide.”

Curran added that she was in favor of the legislation to teach the hate symbols and the meanings behind them to schoolchildren, noting that it would help them “fully understand the damage and repercussions of such heinous acts,” while providing the students with the knowledge of the symbols’ “horrific history.”

The bill will be voted on when the Legislature is back in session in January, and would go into effect on Sept. 1, 2020, if signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.