Great Neck rallies against hate, anti-Semitism

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Great Neck rallies against hate, anti-Semitism
Rabbi Dale Polakoff of Great Neck Synagogue addressing attendees at an anti-semitism rally on Saturday with other speakers, including Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Democrat from Glen Cove. (Photo by Karen Rubin)

Great Neck residents and local leaders rallied against hate and an increase in anti-Semitism at the Village Green in Great Neck on a rainy Sunday morning with umbrellas and signs.

The rally came in the wake of comments by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has been under fire for remarks about Israel, including a suggestion on Twitter that pro-Israel sentiment among lawmakers was “all about the Benjamins” – or donations from AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Organizers said that there was an outpouring of support for the rally across age groups despite a downpour, with people seeking cover from the rain or hiding under umbrellas.

Estimates of the turnout varied, with some in the hundreds.

Dr. Paul Brody, a member of the Grassroots Committee to Fight Hate and Anti-Semitism and one of the event organizers, said he felt the turnout was really good considering the weather, with speakers from local, town, county, federal and state government showing support too.

“We had participants on all levels and many politicians who spoke on this issue of fighting anti-Semitism and all kinds of hate,” Brody said.

Among the elected officials at the rally were Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents the North Shore in the House of Representatives, Rep. Kathleen Rice, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, County Legislator Ellen Birnbaum, state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli of Great Neck, North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth and Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral.

Dr. Alan Mazurek, another committee member and event organizer, said he and others had invited numerous groups to attend the event to build a united front and be “inclusive as we possibly could.”

Mazurek said he and other organizers were unnerved by the idea that anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments could happen in Congress and that the response from leadership was poor. The U.S. House of Representatives put out a “watered down resolution” that broadly condemned hate but did not specifically mention the anti-Israel comments or Omar by name, Mazurek said.

“When we hear the beginnings and rumblings of anti-Semitism in Congress, it gets us nervous,” Mazurek said. “The fact that this can now occur in Congress, in the United States of America, is a frightening thought.”

Anti-Semitism, Mazurek also said, seems to be “the one thing” the far left and far right “can agree upon.”

“It’s from the right and the left,” Mazurek said, “and that’s why we have to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms.”

Steve Markowitz, the chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, said the majority of the comments were focused on unity and the need to come together to fight anti-Semitism.

“I think the common message was clearly that anti-Semitism is very much with us, it’s a real genuine threat,” Markowitz said. “We have seen it in Europe and now it is becoming more prevalent here and … we all need to be able to respond to it.”

He said that anti-Semitism is a “virus” that has been spreading. In Europe it’s “almost impossible or very dangerous” for Jewish children to go to school, he said, and now there are a “tremendous number of incidents” in secondary schools in the United States. Conflict  is also a force within the Jewish community itself, he said.

“If we’re going to be successful with that, we have to be united within our own community,” Markowitz said.

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