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Uniting against hate on Long Island

Leaders take aim at anti-Semitism in wake of graffiti incidents

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In the U.S. and around the world, anti-Semitism has been on the rise. According to the Anti-Defamation League, a New York-based organization that works to fight anti-Semitism, there were 1,879 attacks against Jewish people and Jewish institutions in 2018, the third-highest number on record since the ADL began tracking the statistics in the 1970s.

The North Shore was reminded of the frequency of these hate crimes when the Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, in Glen Cove, was spray-painted with anti-Semitic graffiti over the Thanksgiving weekend and again on Dec. 2. Afterward, elected leaders, including U.S. Rep Tom Suozzi, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, her Suffolk County counterpart, Steve Bellone, and HMTC Chairman Steven Markowitz announced the formation of an Island-wide task force against anti-Semitism and symbols of hate at a Dec. 9 news conference at the HMTC.

“This bicounty coalition will work to educate our communities about the negative impacts of anti-Semitism and hatred as well as stress the value of the diversity of our population,” Curran said. “We cannot allow anti-Semitic and hateful acts, whether they come in the form of graffiti, speech, discrimination or violence, to become normalized and find comfort in our communities.”

Sea Cliff Village Trustee Dina Epstein, whose father-in-law is a Holocaust survivor, said she was heartbroken to hear about the graffiti at the HMTC. She said she views the United States as a place where people of all cultures can live together and accept one another, which she said she felt was on display in Sea Cliff on Dec. 8, at a joint Christmas tree and menorah lighting.

Rabbi Irwin Huberman, from Glen Cove’s Congregation Tifereth Israel, lit the menorah at the ceremony. He said that the graffiti does not represent the North Shore, which comprises people of many different faiths, and residents have no tolerance for hateful imagery. A task force to tackle the rise of hate crimes would benefit not only the North Shore, but all places on Long Island, Huberman added.

In the coming weeks, the task force will unite local elected officials, law enforcement officers and community leaders to educate the Island’s youth about tolerance in order to end the rise of hate crimes here. Officials said that some youth might be ignorant of the hate symbols they use, so properly educating them on their history might curb their use.

“I think that anything that improves communication between people of different backgrounds in our community and enhances education, especially among our youth, is a step in the proper direction,” Huberman said.

Legislator Josh Lafazan, a Democrat from Woodbury and a self-described millennial, went one step further. “We stand ready to deploy every necessary resource to defeat anti-Semitism through education and by bringing those who commit hateful acts to justice,” he said. “My generation, the largest, most educated and most diverse in America, has a duty to unequivocally and categorically denounce hatred, especially when confronted with it in our backyard.”

Detective Lt. John Nagle, of the Glen Cove Police Department, said that officers’ patrols have increased at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center since the crimes occurred. While the first crime involved four unknown teens, information on the second crime is still not available. In a news release, Nagle explained that while graffiti had been common at the neighboring Welwyn Preserve, it has now expanded to the HMTC. The two recent incidents involved not only graffiti of swastikas, but also damage to the HMTC’s signs and garden. Markowitz said that he was shocked and saddened when he came across the graffiti, and urged local officials to make sure that such acts could not be repeated.

“Seemingly small, innocuous actions can lead to much worse if left unchecked,” Markowitz said. “We are committed to continuing to educate students and adults about the lessons of the Holocaust and the dangers of anti-Semitism, bullying and all other forms of hate and discrimination.”

As county and state officials take the lead on the task force, local leaders are working to support the HMTC. Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke said that the HMTC serves as a place for local residents to learn about and pay respect to the victims of the Holocaust. He said the city would not allow hatred or intolerance. They “have no place in our city, and it is now time to stand up as leaders and educators so we can prevent such thoughts from continuing,” he said.

Sea Cliff Mayor Edward Lieberman has long had to cope with anti-Semitism. His family moved to the North Shore after his father received death threats for his role as president of the Bayside Hills Jewish Center. As a Nassau County assistant district attorney in the 1980s, Lieberman became the chief of the office’s civil rights unit, helping to introduce hate crime legislation in the penal law. He said his heritage and former position have made him highly aware of how important it is to combat hate.

“As the first Jewish mayor of Sea Cliff,” Lieberman said, “I take that title seriously in not only finding comfort in that role, but also then having the responsibility to stay vigilant and determined that this type of immoral, illegal and inappropriate behavior cease and be addressed.”

During the news conference on Dec. 9, County Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton added that she would work with New York state to bolster security at the museum. She has met with Markowitz, and is now applying for grants for cameras and other security tools from the HMTC. “I’ve always felt proud to have this center here — to think that tolerance is taught in Glen Cove is really an honor,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s a perfect, beautifully secluded place for paying respects to the souls who perished in the Holocaust.”

Along with the task force, State Assemblyman Charles Lavine and Sen. Todd Kaminsky have introduced state legislation that would bring hate symbol education to public schools. The bill will be up for vote in January.

And at the national level, Suozzi is supporting the Never Again Education Act, which would promote education about the Holocaust and hate crimes in schools.

“White nationalism, racism and anti-Semitism in America are very real,” Suozzi cautioned. “It is a growing threat to our nation and we must do all we can to fight it.”