Ari Brown maneuvered between the lectern and all the federal, state, county and village representatives and rabbinical leaders in crowded Cedarhurst Village Hall on Jan. 3, just as a news conference was ending.
The entire Long Island congressional delegation, two state legislators, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, county Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and two village mayors were joined by many other Five Towns leaders to denounce anti-Semitism and show their support for the Jewish community.
The gathering was a reaction to more than a dozen attacks in New York and New Jersey in December that were fueled by anti-Semitism. Among them, a Queens man verbally abused and physically threatened three people, including a rabbi and an 11-year-old, in the North Lawrence Costco on Dec. 8; three civilians and a police detective were killed, along with two armed suspects, in a shootout in a Jersey City kosher supermarket on Dec. 10; and five people were stabbed in upstate Monsey on Dec. 28, at a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s house.
Brown, who was not scheduled to speak, faced the assembled political and religious leaders. “I am Ari Brown, deputy mayor of Cedarhurst. I’m of Jewish and Italian descent,” he said. “Growing up, me and my brothers in Franklin Square, every week we got into a fistfight [being called] ‘dirty Jew’ this and that, and yes, my neighbor Sean Hannity — yes, that Sean Hannity — would come out and defend me and my brothers when that would happen.”
Brown then claimed that more members of Congress, including some of the representatives he was addressing, could have done more to combat the increase in anti-Semitic incidents locally and across the country by strongly condemning the actions of their peers, Democrats Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, who have inflamed Jews with what many have characterized as anti-Semitic rhetoric. The House of Representatives voted twice last year to rebuke anti-Semitism, especially after comments and actions by Omar.
“Everyone here has good intentions,” Brown said, glancing at the officials behind him. “You do the right thing and people will respect you for it.” Later, Brown told the Herald that he didn’t want to be disrespectful, but the rabbis in attendance supported him.
Considering preventive measures
Saying that the Five Towns was close to her heart, U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who represents the area, was joined by her House colleagues — Republicans Peter King and Lee Zeldin and Democrats Tom Suozzi and Gregory Meeks — to present a united front. Zeldin, who served in the militant and is a reservist, is Jewish.
“Unfortunately we’re here today in the Five Towns due to a disturbing spike in ant-Semitic incidents that has plagued our community for the past several weeks,” Rice said. “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, because we are all New Yorkers, and an attack on one religious, racial or ethnic group is an attack on all of us.”
Through the federal nonprofit security grant program, $1.7 million was secured in 2019 for 17 Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools in Rice’s 4th Congressional District, she said. Another $75 million will be available nationwide if President Trump signs the Strengthen Security Act against Terrorism bill, which was passed by both the House and Senate. Rice also noted the proposed Never Again Education Act, a bipartisan bill to expand Holocaust education training and resources for teachers across the country, as another way of counteracting anti-Semitism.
Ryder said that the number of hate crimes in Nassau County had doubled from 2018 to 2019, from five to 10. There were nine in 2017. “We will make arrests,” he said. “It is time to step up, tell the police and let the experts do what we do.”
State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach, said she would introduce legislation to attack the problem this week. “[It] will add those offenses categorized under New York State Penal Law as hate crimes as a qualifying offense,” Miller explained. “Meaning the judge would have the discretion and the ability to set bail when somebody is charge with a hate crime.”
After learning of Miller’s proposed bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said it would support adding hate crimes to the list of bailable offenses, and discuss other potential changes.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who is also Jewish, recalled visiting his grandmother on Sundays when he was young. Each time she put a few coins or dollars in an envelope to donate to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish National Fund or the United Jewish Appeal. “And one day I asked her, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’” Kaminsky recounted, “and she looked at me, reminded me of what happened to her aunts and uncles in Lithuania and said, ‘It could happen anywhere.’” An estimated 90 percent of that country’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Asked about the new law, Kaminsky, who called for a certain amount of judicial discretion to ensure that defendants who are considered dangerous remain in custody, said that a legislative review of the bill should be considered. “If we say we want to see zero tolerance on hate crimes, we’ll have to follow through,” he said.
Rabbi Kenneth Hain, of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, said that synagogues and schools are spending a great deal of money to keep congregants safe. “We need more,” he said at the news conference. “It is clearly a different time. The threat is greater. It can’t be business as usual.”
Marching in solidarity
The Monsey and Jersey City incidents were personal for Rabbi Steve Graber, of Temple Hillel in North Woodmere. Graber’s daughter-in-law and her father prayed at Congregation Netzach Yisroel in Monsey, the synagogue next door to where the attack occurred. And Graber, who was not at the news conference, grew up 30 blocks from the Jersey City supermarket where the shooting took place. “There is the personal fear that people are experiencing that if it can happen there, it can happen in another synagogue,” he told the Herald. “That’s scary.”
Lawrence Mayor Alex Edelman said he appreciated the fact that the elected officials came to Cedarhurst. “I think it’s very important for the politicians to realize what we’re going through,” he said, “and I think they all do.”
All branches of government at every level must join forces to ensure that the laws are enforced, Cedarhurst Mayor Benjamin Weinstock said, “to make sure that they do everything they can to protect the synagogues, schools, civilians — everybody — and then ultimately to capture and prosecute those people who have done bad.”
Roughly 25,000 people marched in New York City on Jan. 5 to show their solidarity with Jewish people, including Woodmere resident Moshe Brandsdorfer, the executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Rockaway Peninsula, and his daughter Malkie, 13. They walked with teachers from the Shefa School in Manhattan, which Malkie attends. “All walks of life came together for a cause, no matter their religious beliefs,” Brandsdorfer said, adding that if other ethnic or religious groups need to hold similar marches, he would take part.
At the march, Cuomo said that the state would provide $45 million in additional money to protect religious-based institutions and private schools. Last month, Long Island religious schools and centers were expected to receive more than $2 million, and Five Towns schools and centers were expecting $500,000 for safety improvements from New York’s Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program.
A march against anti-Semitism is planned for Sunday, at 3 p.m., at the intersection of County Seat Drive and 11th Street in Mineola. Speakers are expected to address the gathering at around 3:40 p.m., at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive & Legislative Building, at 1550 Franklin Ave.