As I was heading out of town late last Saturday night, for a family vacation, I learned of the heinous antisemitic attack in Monsey, NY on Chanukah. This was one more horrific act in a wave of antisemitism washing over us. It is overwhelming, maddening, sickening, while also still being incomprehensible. Were we really on the eve of 2020 facing the oldest tropes that have plagued Jews for centuries and cost us the loss of millions of our flesh and blood? The scourge of antisemitism is clearly on the rise and we know that an attack on any Jew is an attack on all Jews. The question though that is resonating with all of us is, what can we do about it? Or, what are we doing about it?
Before I share with you what we are doing and what you can do, I want to warn you that this Shabbat message is going to be longer than my usual Friday missive. There is a lot to say on this topic. I really appreciate your reading this to the end.
Recently, several community members returned from a Federation conference called FedLab. It was a deep dive into topics concerning every Jewish community across the United States and in some cases, the world. A few of us participated in a track that addressed antisemitism and security. What we learned, and felt reassured by, is that in Rochester, we are not only on track, but we are leading the way in our approach to combatting antisemitism.
Fighting antisemitism requires the multifaceted tactics that we are using. These tactics can be distilled into three specific areas: Jewish community security, alliance building, and proactive responses. It is only with the proper mix of all three that we can tackle antisemitism, TOGETHER. This is a moment for all hands-on deck, and not just Jewish ones, because antisemitism is not simply a Jewish problem, it is a national one. When under attack, I believe a natural reaction is to retreat and look inward and close ourselves off from the rest of the community. But, at this time, it is more important than ever that we stand proudly as Jews and celebrate all things Jewish, while also ensuring our safety.
The issue of safety and security is an important one. We all must play a role in our own personal safety, while organizationally Federation helps local institutions shore up their security efforts. Last year, the Federation brought in the Secure Community Network (SCN), our national security arm, funded by Jewish Federations across the U.S., to conduct security assessments at 25 of our Jewish institutions. These assessments, and our work with SCN, have created a road map to address Jewish community security needs. In addition, we created a new position, Director of Jewish Community Security, and hired former Brighton Chief of Police Mark Henderson to fill the role. Mark has been meeting with all of our agency and synagogue leadership to address security needs and concerns. His work has also included deepening relationships with local, regional and national law enforcement so that they know and understand the Jewish community. We are grateful to the many members of law enforcement that have been responsive, helpful and supportive.
An extremely important component of our security work is the ROCStrong campaign. This fundraising effort, chaired by Michael Gordon and Howard Crane, will be working on raising the dollars necessary to implement the recommendations of our security assessments. This is a three million dollar campaign for immediate needs and an additional seven million dollars to create a security endowment. It is important to understand that we are not looking to build fortresses around our community. Instead, the assessments provide for basic security needs and training. The campaign will fund camera systems, enhanced interior and exterior lighting, controlled building access systems, communication systems, window film covering and security training plans and practices.
Security, though, is only one piece of the picture.
The second approach that we are taking is that of building and relying on our alliances and partners. The hard truth is that the Jewish community cannot fight antisemitism on its own, nor should we. While we are stronger than we have ever been, we need allies to take on this fight with us. And, we need to support our allies in their efforts as well. We know that when antisemitism is on the rise, so are all forms of hatred. Antisemitism and hate are being fomented in our society, and now is the time for all people to take a stand, Jews and non-Jews alike. The Jewish community is leading the way in this endeavor, particularly through the work of our Levine Center to End Hate.
Daily we work with a diverse group of people and organizations across the community to help them understand the Jewish community. For the past year I have been speaking to a variety of different audiences about antisemitism, including public school leadership and our elected officials. Our interfaith partners have reached out with care and concern wanting to know what they can do to be helpful. We have felt tremendous support from many members of the non-Jewish community who engage with Federation regularly. They care about the Jewish community and reassure us that they are our partners and champions. This has brought me comfort and I hope it does the same for you.
The third approach that we are taking involves proactive responses.
Now is not a time for complacency. I speak to people every day who feel overwhelmed, helpless and want to do something to make a difference in fighting antisemitism. What I want everyone to know is that we each have the power to make a difference. Let’s not retreat into a bubble. Let’s get out in the community and do Jewish. Go to services. Work out at the JCC or attend a program. Take a class with a Jewish theme. Come to a community program. Go to Israel. Send your children to Jewish programs, camps and school. Sharpen your Jewish knowledge. Give tzedakah (charity). Participate in security training.
We are a vibrant Jewish community and the BEST way to show those who are determined to hurt us that they will not succeed is to show up, be present and engage in our Jewish community. Don’t retreat. Wear your Jewish pride as a badge of honor.
There are very practical things that you can do right now too. Reach out to our Senators and ask them to join the new bipartisan Senate Task Force for Combatting Antisemitism. Call your Congress members and ask them to push for increased security funding. This will amplify the message that Federation will be sharing with our representatives at our annual legislative lunch in early February. The focus of this luncheon is always on issues of concern to the Jewish community. This year the lunch will focus exclusively on antisemitism.
Please consider joining a program of the Levine Center to End Hate. Check out the website, endhateroc.org, to learn about upcoming programs, like “Let’s Talk About Hate” workshops, our Talking Circles Series to End Hate, and “Defined by Others: A Theatre-based Exploration of the Social Implications of Identity”. Contact us if you’re interested in hosting one of these programs in your Jewish institution, or be in touch with us about other ways you would like to engage our community. I also encourage you to invite your non-Jewish friends, neighbors and community leaders to attend Jewish community programs. Perhaps you can even invite people to join you for a Shabbat dinner. The more we open ourselves up to others, the stronger we will be.
Yes, antisemitism is rearing its very ugly head. There is no doubt about it. As an organization, Federation is doing its part, with you, to make a difference. Let’s use our collective communal strength to show the world that not only will we remain strong and vibrant, but that we will thrive, together. Every one of us must play an active part, now and always. Our future depends on it.
Here are some resources to help frame the issues we are confronting:
- How Different is America? by Michael Dobkowski, The New York Jewish Week
- Jews Are Going Underground by Deborah Lipstadt, The Atlantic
- It’s Not The Jews’ Job To Figure Out How To Stop Anti-Semitism. It’s Yours. by Jeremy Burton, The Forward
- The Anti-Semitism March Was A Buoyant Response From A Fearful Community, by Andrew Silow-Carroll, The New York Jewish Week
- Why Communities Must Change Everything to Combat Antisemitism, by Jackie Congedo and David Bernstein, ejewishphilanthropy
- Attacks on Jewish Community Threaten our Most Basic Democratic Values, by Alcee L. Hastings and Michael Balaban, The Forward
- Mass. Council of Churches Condemns Anti-Semitic Attacks in Monsey, NY, elsewhere Travis Andersen, The Boston Globe
Shabbat shalom -
Meredith Dragon, CEO