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Oceanside rabbis react to statewide anti-Semitic attacks

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Elected officials and religious leaders gathered on Jan. 3 to denounce acts of anti-Semitism that plagued New York last month.
Elected officials and religious leaders gathered on Jan. 3 to denounce acts of anti-Semitism that plagued New York last month.
Jeffrey Bessen/Herald

In the wake of several anti-Semitic bias incidents across the state last month, local rabbis are making efforts to ensure the safety of their congregants and to create dialogue within their communities to foster a safe environment.

Rabbi Levi Gurkov, of the Chabad of Oceanside, said the facility’s security protocols are on par with safety measures that other Jewish institutions have taken in the wake of the incidents. He urged all religions to come together in solidarity against hatred, and said that it should not be accepted.

“I’m disappointed by all this hatred in the world still being tolerated,” Gurkov said. “We have to learn from our past, and we are not allowed to let any anti-Semitism or form of hatred go unnoticed or unchallenged.”

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 house.

Temple Avodah Rabbi Uri Goren said he never expected to see such hatred manifested in New York, and noted that the temple takes security seriously, which includes stationing off-duty police officers at the building during religious school and services.

In a letter to the temple’s congregants, Goren wrote that it was up to each of them to choose how to react to the acts, whether with fear, pride, caution, preparation or something else.

“In our personal lives we need to let ourselves and the world know that we are truly proud of being part of the Jewish community, whether by birth, choice or by sharing life with a Jewish person,” Goren wrote. “. . . Until humanity redirects our path to love, respect and support, we will at least do what we can to make us feel secure in the place that offers spiritual security, our Temple Avodah. May 2020 open the door to a safer world, a better human race.”

Rabbi Aaron Marsh, of Oceanside Jewish Center, said the number of incidents was concerning, but added that he was pleased to see the majority of the American public condemning the attacks. He added that he has addressed the issue in his recent sermons.

“My message has been to remind my congregation that it is not just our own community that faces prejudice or hatred and attacks based on race, culture or religion,” he said. “We need everyone, Jews and non-Jews of all persuasions alike, to stand up and call out hate, discrimination, prejudices and misconceptions whenever we see it happening, whomever the target is, and work to eliminate our own personal biases.”

On Jan. 3, federal, state, county and village representatives joined rabbinical leaders and dozens of others to denounce the attacks at Cedarhurst Village Hall. State Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach, said that 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,” she 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 bias crimes in Nassau have doubled in the past year, and his police force is ready. “We will react to it, and we will make arrests,” he said, referring to any hate crimes that are committed. “It’s time to step up, tell the police and let the experts do what we do.”

On Dec. 31, new Hempstead Town Supervisor Don 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,” he 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 will increase patrols where needed.

Hempstead 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, over the next few weeks we should do everything we can to make sure that our Sunday services are packed,” he said, “that our synagogues are filled to the brim and that our churches throughout the Town of Hempstead have more attendees than they ever had.”

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said that on Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., there will be a solidarity march at at the intersection of County Seat Drive and 11th Street in Mineola.