‘We will do everything we can’

Jeff Bessen and Bridget Downes for LI Herald

January 09, 2020

Originally published in Long Island Herald on January 09, 2020.

Elected officials came together this past week to denounce recent anti-Semitic attacks and announce measures to combat the violence following the recent attacks on the Jewish community.

“Our country is based on principles of liberty and tolerance,” said Rabbi Royi Shaffin, the spiritual leader of the South Baldwin Jewish Center. “However, if we wish to continue to foster these values, we must invest in educating our society, and especially our youth, toward a culture of inclusivity, mutual respect and non-violence. We must also be vigilant in protecting Jews, and all religious and ethnic groups who are targeted in hate crimes, so that we can continue to live in a free, just and law-abiding society.”

Federal, state, county and village representatives, along with rabbinical leaders and several others, crowded into Cedarhurst Village Hall on Jan. 3 to denounce the recent attacks, condemn anti-Semitism and pledge renewed action to battle it.

The event came in the wake of several recent incidents, including the Hanukkah stabbing in Monsey, the shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City and no fewer than eight other anti-Semitic incidents reported in the New York City area since Dec. 13.

“The vicious attack in Monsey, and the alarming spike in anti-Semitic violence we have seen over the past several weeks, has put all of us on edge,” said U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City, in a statement.

Rice, who represents Baldwin, joined her House of Representative colleagues Republicans Peter King and Lee Zeldin and Democrats Tom Suozzi and Gregory Meeks in a united front. Zeldin, who served in the military and is a reservist, is Jewish.

“I am here to provide reassurance in the strongest possible terms that we will do everything we can at the federal, state and local levels of government,” Rice said, “because we are all New Yorkers, and an attack on one religious, racial or ethnic group is an attack on all of us.”

Rice noted that through the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, $1.7 million for 17 Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools in the 4th C.D. was secured in 2019. She also announced a piece of proposed legislation, the Never Again Education Act, which is a bipartisan bill to expand Holocaust education training and resources for teachers across the country.

Rabbi Kenneth Hain, the leader of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, said that this “a very daunting erev Shabbat [before the Sabbath] for all of us.”

“Our congregations and our schools are expending enormous amounts of resources to keep our congregants or students safe,” he said. “We need more. It is clearly a different time. The threat is greater. It can’t be business as usual. We need more resources. We need to eliminate the fear that many of our congregants have.”

Officials also pledged to increase federal funding for state and local hate crimes investigations and prosecutions, and to increase funding for the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention at the Department of Homeland Security.

Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said bias crimes in Nassau have doubled in the past year and that his police force is ready. “We will react to it, and we will make arrests,” he said. “It’s time to step up, tell the police and let the experts do what we do.”

Continuing the call for unity, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said that on Sunday, Jan. 12, there will be a solidarity march at 3 p.m. at the intersection of County Seat Drive and 11th Street in Mineola.

“Last month, Nassau and Suffolk formed a bi-county coalition that will identify and develop a plan of action to combat and report acts of hate and bias incidents on Long Island,” Curran, of Baldwin, said. “We will work together to stand up to hate and stress the value of our diverse Long Island community.”

“One cannot help but feel disgust and sorrow with regard to recent hate crimes against the Jewish community,” Shaffin said. “Nevertheless, the overwhelming response of support from civic leaders and law enforcement officers, endeavors on the part of the government to protect Jewish communal institutions and to upgrade Holocaust and tolerance education, and the prayers and encouragement of houses of worship and clergy throughout the community, have been cause for inspiration and hope.”

State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who represents parts of Baldwin, said it’s important to collectively condemn the acts of hate. “We must remain united in our resolve to protect our communities and offer real solutions to this scourge of violence by enacting tougher hate crime legislation and providing more securityw funding.”

King and Meeks echoed the theme of standing together against hatred.

“We must speak out against anti-Semitism,” King said. “Anti-Semitism is not just an attack upon Jews, it’s an attack on all Americans.”

“It is extremely important that we all come together,” Meeks said. “There is a cancer that is going on in our city, our state, on the Island and in our country. We got to cut it out. Acts of anti-Semitism are not just against the Jewish community. It’s an attack on all Americans, all humans.”