With the hopes of taking action against anti-Semitism, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky recently proposed legislation that would require New York state schools to incorporate education on symbols of hate into their curriculum for students from grades six to 12. The bill would urge teachers to educate students on some of the prominent hate symbols such as the meaning of swastikas and nooses, which represent hatred and intolerance.
Larry Rosenberg, past president of Congregation Shaaray Shalom in West Hempstead, said that this bill would provide an earlier opportunity for children to better identify hate symbols.
“Symbols are a very strong communication vehicle,” Rosenberg said. “It’s something that resonates with them. The things that we’re seeing today are like a contagious disease. That’s why we have to really focus on the education of what these symbols really represent.”
Rosenberg, who is also the chairman of Shaaray Shalom’s Holocaust Remembrance Committee, said that the recent uptick of anti-Semitic incidents in New York make it even more important for this legislation to be passed. 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 proposal came in the wake of the 13 anti-Semitic incidents in New York since Dec. 8. The most recent was on Dec. 28, when a machete-wielding man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s house in upstate Monsey.
“Words alone cannot stop the spread of anti-Semitism in our communities — we need action,” Kaminsky said in a statement. “My bill would empower our kids with knowledge of the destructive effects of hate symbols like the swastika, and through this education, help lead us to a more accepting and tolerant society.”
At Shaaray Shalom, the synagogue annually holds a Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day program. Rosenberg said that for this year’s program, the synagogue plans to expand its educational lecture for children, in which they get to meet with the event’s guest speaker.
“My perspective is that young people are a clean blank slate,” Rosenberg said. “Hateful words lead to actions, but we want to reverse the tide of hatred.”
Rosenberg added that seeing what the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove has been able to accomplish in educating children of all ages makes him hopeful about their program going forward. “I am very optimistic about the youth,” he said. “I believe that our youth will rise to the occasion and do the right thing. I think this bill will be a big difference maker in fulfilling that prophecy.”