Long Island fights anti-Semitism with unity events

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Hundreds of people packed the Mid Island Y JCC Sunday for the Break the Hate rally with featured speaker Tom Suozzi. (Photo courtesy Tom Suozzi)

In the days after swastikas were paraded around Charlottesville, Virginia, and neo-Nazis screamed “Jews won’t replace us” at the University of Virginia, officials of the Sid Jacobson Jewish Community Center were working to empower their community to act against the hatred.

“After Charlottesville, we here at the JCC convened a conversation among the rabbis in our area here to ask what should we do and how do we respond as a community,” Rabbi Lina Zerbarini said.

We are concerned about the increase of anti-Semitic incidents in our community and around the country as well as the increase in acts of hate against others. Long Island has also seen vandalism against area mosques and other communities. We abhor all these expressions of hate and stand in solidarity with other targeted communities.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents grew a startling 86 percent in the first three months of 2017 compared with the same quarter last year.

On Aug. 18, the community center issued a statement via email from Executive Director David Black along with a link to a new resource page on the center’s website.

The world we live in is far from whole,” Black said in the statement. “We only need to turn on the news or scroll through our social media feeds to see violence, anger, suffering, pain, alienation and great need. Together, we can work towards bettering our world.”

The page, which now also includes ways to donate to Hurricane Harvey victims in Texas, lists nine social justice organizations looking for volunteers to “enable people who might be looking to take action,” Zerbarini said.

“It was time for us to help our community members take action, and that was not an arena we had gotten into previously,” Zerbarini said. “We provide plenty of social services here and try to connect people to social services and enable people to volunteer, but in terms of responding with regard to policy, we hadn’t gotten into that arena.”

Zerbarini said for the Jewish holiday Sukkot, which runs for a week in early October, the community center will invite the community to attend. Zerbarini said the center is considering celebrating the holiday on Oct. 8.

“One of the traditions of Sukkot is to invite guests to be in your Sukkah and enjoy the blessings they bring you,” Zerbarini said. “We are going to organize a community-wide event where we invite the whole community, not just the Jewish community, to say the doors of our Sukkah are open.”

More than 70 organizations rallied together at a Break the Hate event at the Mid Island JCC in Plainview hours after swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti were discovered spray-painted across the back of Syosset High School.

Before the event, organizers issued a joint statement calling for the community to “come together and stand strong against hate in all its forms; to stand together, look out for each other, respect difference and honor shared values so that we can strengthen our Long Island community and our country.”

The featured speaker, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, opened the event by welcoming people in English, Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish, but quickly followed with some of the “ugly and shocking and awful” realities of the Charlottesville protests.

“It’s hard for me to even say these words, but I’ve got to say them,” Suozzi said. “‘Blood and soil. White blood, American soil. Jews will not replace us. White lives matter. Build the wall. This city [Charlottesville] is run by Jewish communists and criminal n—–s.’ These are the words being spoken in our country right now. It’s hard to imagine that people would even dare to raise their heads to speak these ugly words.”

Rabbi Johnathan Hecht of Temple Chaverim in Plainview compared the protesters to sewer filth and urged the community to help “put the lid back on the sewer.”

“The lid has been taken off the sewer, and all of these people expressing this sort of hatred have been enabled to crawl out,” Zerbarini said about Hecht’s remarks. “It needs to be made clear by leaders of all types and average members of the community that this is not acceptable. This is not what we stand for. This is not what our country was founded on, at least not in its aspirational way.”

The Long Island University Post campus is hosting a State of Anti-Semitism conference at the Tilles Center for Performing Arts from 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, led by former U.S. Rep. Steve Israel, who is chairman of the LIU Global Institute.

“At a time when anti-Semitism is rising at home and abroad, it is critical to come together and work together for the common good,” Israel said. “This conference will help bring our community together to have an open dialogue, share ideas and educate ourselves on the history of religious violence and global trends, so we can stand vigilant against anti-Semitism.”

The goals of the event are to assess the state of anti-Semitism throughout the world and the region, and to work with law enforcement to identify best practices and better partnerships to improve safety for Jewish institutions on Long Island.

The conference is headlined by Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust historian and anti-Semitism expert. Lipstadt was portrayed in the 2016 film “Denial,” based on her extensive work in combating Holocaust denial.

A panel of local law enforcement leaders will also discuss what can be done to protect communities, including Assistant U.S. Attorney Taryn A. Merkl, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas and Suffolk County Police Commissioner Timothy Sini.

The event is free and open to members of the public, but space is limited. An RSVP is required to attend the event. People can RSVP at (516) 299-2560 or by emailing Harrison Feuer at harrison.feuer@liu.edu.

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