After a series of anti-Semitic attacks across the state last month, local rabbis are working to ensure the safety of their congregants and to start conversations in their communities about fostering a safe environment.
Rabbi Sandra Bellush, of Temple Am Echad in Lynbrook, said that a group of congregants gathered recently to discuss their feelings about the violent incidents, and many took part in a march against hate in New York City last Sunday and planned to join a countywide march later this month.
“We are heartened to see that our state and local governments take seriously the incidents of violence against Jews, and we applaud plans to increase federal funding to protect houses of worship in all religions,” Bellush said. “Fighting bigotry, violence and all hate crimes must be a priority.”
There were 13 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 home.
In the wake of the incidents, Bellush sent a message to the Temple Am Echad congregation on New Year’s Eve, noting the attacks and the need to fight bigotry and hate.
“Although [Hanukkah] is over, we must not forget its lessons of Jewish resiliency and the understanding that we are stronger than hate,” she said. “Our Jewish tradition’s prophetic message that we can make our world a better place must continue to inspire and drive us.”
Rabbi Andrew Warmflash, of the Hewlett-East Rockaway Jewish Centre, said he believed murderous anti-Semitism was gone in the U.S., but added that recent events have shown that hatred and bigotry are on the rise.
“I say that it is important not to let the haters intimidate us or keep us from proudly and joyously celebrating our Jewishness,” Warmflash said. “To do otherwise would be to give the forces of hatred the victory that they seek.”
On Jan. 3, federal, state, county and village representatives joined rabbinical leaders and dozens of others at Cedarhurst Village Hall to denounce the attacks. State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach, said she planned to introduce legislation to combat the problem.
“It’ll add those offenses categorized under New York state penal law as hate crimes as a qualifying offense,” Miller said. “Meaning the judge would have the discretion and the ability to set bail when somebody is charged with a hate crime.”
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that bias crimes in Nassau had doubled in the past year, but his police force was ready to combat them. “We will make arrests,” he said. “It’s time to step up, tell the police and let the experts do what we do.”
On Dec. 31, new Hempstead Town Supervisor Donald Clavin joined several elected officials and religious leaders at the Yeshiva of South Shore in Lawrence, and denounced the attacks.
“There is zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” Clavin said. “We stand unified, all faiths, all elected officials, to say we will not tolerate this. Not in our township, not in our country, not in our society, and we are going to raise our voices and stand together.” He added that the town’s public safety unit would increase patrols where needed.
Town Councilman Anthony D’Esposito, a Republican from Island Park, said that the news conference “isn’t an event we would like to host” and called the incidents “an attack on the very fabric of our nation.”
“Although the holidays are ending,” D’Esposito added, “over the next few weeks we should do everything we can to make sure that our Sunday services are packed, that our synagogues are filled to the brim and that our churches throughout the Town of Hempstead have more attendees than they ever had.”
County Executive Laura Curran said that on Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., there will be a solidarity march at the intersection of County Seat Drive and 11th Street in Mineola.