A 90 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in New York state in 2017 should be taken seriously, according to rabbis in the Five Towns. The jump in violations ranging from vandalism to assault and harassment, as reported by the Anti-Defamation League, was larger in New York than anywhere else in the country, which as a whole saw a 57 percent increase.
The ADL, an international Jewish civil rights organization, released a report on the trend just hours before Nassau County police reported that swastikas had been carved into the sidewalk in front of a Wantagh woman’s home on Feb. 28. A week earlier, an Oceanside woman also found a swastika, along with other offensive graffiti, on the sidewalk outside her home.
“It’s sickening,” said Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, spiritual leader at Temple Israel of Lawrence, after reading the report. “It’s a sad commentary on the times in which we live, and our great nation.”
ADL officials partially attributed the nationwide increase to a rise in school and college campus incidents, which nearly doubled for the second year in a row.
“A confluence of events in 2017 led to a surge in attacks on our community — from bomb threats, cemetery desecrations, white supremacists marching in Charlottesville and children harassing children at school,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive officer and national director. “These incidents came at a time when we saw a rising climate of incivility, the emboldening of hate groups and widening divisions in society.”
In 2017, according to the report, the number of offenses at K-through-12 schools surpassed those in public areas for the first time, with 457 incidents reported in schools — a 94 percent increase over the number of school incidents reported in 2016.
“I don’t dismiss this at all, even when it’s coming from 8-, 9-, 10-year-olds or teenagers,” said Rabbi Bruce Ginsburg, of Congregation Sons of Israel in Woodmere. “A lot of kids know that a swastika is frightening to Jews, but when you’re talking about kids, I don’t think they should be equated with [Charlottesville marchers]. Although we do have to take it seriously, we don’t want future generations going down that path.”
Rabbi Steven Graber, of Temple Hillel, in North Woodmere, said that bias is occasionally the subject of weekly Bible readings. “The answer to anti-Semitism is education,” he said.
In the months between the November 2016 election and March 2017 alone, police on Long Island and statewide reported a significant increase in racist graffiti and other so-called “bias incidents.” Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office took notice of that increase, and launched a toll-free hotline to report such violations — (888) 392-3644.
“New York serves as a beacon of hope and opportunity for all, and we will continue to stand up to those who seek to spread the politics of division, fear and hate,” Cuomo said in a statement.
The Five Towns had not reported a bias crime since 2016, when two swastikas were found on pillars of a Cedarhurst parking garage and one was drawn outside a house in the village. In 2015, the Long Island Rail Road installed security cameras at the Cedarhurst and Lawrence stations because of a series of incidents from 2012 to 2015, in which the Nazi symbols were etched into the plastic panels of waiting area partitions.
“It’s something that’s been discussed,” Rabbi Claudio Kupchik, of Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, said of the rise in bias crimes. “Unfortunately, with an increase in polarization, voices of hatred that had not been heard as much are starting to be heard, and people are acting on those ideas. That’s worrisome.”
“It’s a very serious concern,” Kupchik added, “and we need to work hard together, communities of faith and people in general. We must make sure that this increase stops — not just anti-Semitism, but all forms of hatred and intolerance … We need to get together and learn about and from each other so we can see each other as brothers and sisters, not as strangers.”
Rosenbaum stressed the need for religious leaders to promote the idea that when “something happens to one person of faith anywhere, it affects people of faith everywhere.” He noted that Temple Israel held a memorial service for the 17 victims of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
“We lit 17 candles,” Rosenbaum said. “Not a number 17, but 17 individuals. We didn’t just focus on the Jews who were killed, because they were all our children. That’s the way we have to start thinking. That’s the way we have to start acting.”
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