By Karen Rubin, News & Photo Features
Long Islanders came out in force on the night of March 2, standing outside in a field in the cold because so many came, the Mid-Island Jewish Community Center couldn’t hold them, to show solidarity and support against a wave of Anti-Semitic incidents, including a bomb threat that terrorized young and old at the JCC just days before. The Plainview, Long Island community, with a large Jewish population along with people across a spectrum of backgrounds and denominations, who had lived there for decades without incidents, was shocked.
As some 400 people from throughout the area held signs that said COEXIST, We Stand Together, and Muslims Support Jews, speakers and participants that included Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish clergy, three Nassau County legislators, a state senator, and the Oyster Bay Town Supervisor said that silence was not an option.
“We won’t tolerate this behavior – and we won’t run from it,” declared Rick Lewis, executive director of the Mid-Island JCC.
Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, who grew up in Plainview and returned to raise his family here, said, “I never considered myself different. I was Jewish living on a block that was diverse. Things have changed, but it won’t be this way, going forward. We won’t allow hate to fester, grow roots.
“This is a level of danger, anger, intolerance we have never experienced, whether because of Washington, the election, is irrelevant now. These acts of hatred, bigotry, racism are an affront to everyone.
“But what I see here, as an American, warms my heart. We won’t be silent… We stand tall, one community united, in a refusal to accept hatred.”
Nassau County Legislator Carrie Solages said, “Dr. King cared about what good people do when evil things happen – we must go beyond tolerance, to love and respect.”
The most emphatic statement came from Mufti Mohammed Farhan of the Islamic Center of Long Island: “We are deeply saddened by the rise in anti-Semitism. The threats against Jewish institutions on Long Island and through New York State are disgusting and unacceptable. Hatred, violence, biogtry have no place.…We stand in strong support with our Jewish brothers and Sisters.”
Pastor Eric Olsen of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Plainview, quoted German Pastor Martin Niemöller who famously wrote, “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist….. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
State Senator John Brooks declared, “We will not stand for hatred in this community, in this state, in this nation. We will make it crystal clear: we are united in love and respect for one another. Hatred has no place. We are the best country in the world – we are better than this.”
As Rabbi Jonathan Hecht of Temple Chaverim, Plainview, noted, the holiday of Purim is when Jews use a grogger (a kind of ratchet instrument which makes noise) to drown out the name of Hamen, one of the first to attempt genocide of the Jews in their midst, who was defeated when Queen Esther revealed her background as a Jew to the King.
The timing of the incidents – three on Long Island, six across New York State, plus news that same day of a desecration of a Jewish cemetery in Rochester, and nearly 100 incidents across 30 states and Canada just since the start of the year – as Easter and Passover holidays close in. Over the centuries, these holidays, marking the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the exodus of Jews from Egypt was when myths about Jewish rituals were used to inflame pograms. It was only in 1938 when Pope Plus XI issued a message condemning anti-Semitism and only in 2013 when Pope Benedict XVI published a book with a brief section affirming that the Jewish people bear no collective guilt for the crucifixion of Jesus.
Asked why there is this upsurge in anti-Semitism now, Rabbi Hecht said, “Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia have always been there, but since World War II, it was as if a sewer lid was put over the sewer to keep racists and bigots from expressing it. But in today’s hyper political environment, the sewer lid has been taken off and all of a sudden, it seems okay to smear racist things in a playground.”
“What happened in our town park and over the phones was a sign of hate and weakness,” said Oyster Bay Town Supervisor Joseph Saladino. “What took place here tonight and continues to grow in our beloved community is a sign of love and strength and while I am town supervisor, love and respect will triumph over hate.”
Participants in the Unity Program also included:
Legislator Rose Walker, District 17
Supervisor Joseph Soladino, TOBAY
Rabbi Debra Bennet, Temple Chaverim
Cantor Bradley Hyman, Temple Chaverim
Bishop Joseph Bjarson, CJC LDS
Surinder Singh Chawla, Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center
Rabbi Steven Conn, Plainview Jewish Center
Cantor Morris Wolk, Plainview Jewish Center
SyedQuadri, Masjid al Baqi
Azhar Bhatt, Islamic Center of LI Westbury
Pastor Eric Olsen, Good Shepard Lutheran
Vicar Adam Reinhardt, Good Shepard Lutheran
Rabbi Neil Schuman, Manetto Hill JC
Rabbi Eli Weissman, Young Israel of Plainview
Authorities Step Up Police Security
Just standing up, speaking out against discrimination in any form is not enough. The culprits have to be found. Towards that end Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who held a press conference on Tuesday, a day after the bomb threat to the Mid-Island JCC in which he announced the steps the Nassau County police department has taken, to heighten security at Jewish institutions.
Since December, the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) has intensified patrols around temples, JCCs and other religious institutions in response to a wave of bomb threats nationwide.
“The Nassau County Police Department’s regular marked patrols, as well as plain clothes officers, Mounted Unit, K-9 Unit, Bureau of Special Operations and the Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team are assigned to different locations to protect residents. Police are also monitoring social media as well as coordinating efforts with Federal, State and local authorities. We remind residents to be vigilant and to call the police if something seems suspicious. Remember, if you See Something, Say Something!”
With continued threats throughout the globe, the NCPD has changed the way in which they police. Public safety initiatives have been enhanced and the Mangano administration is bolstering the police force with increased police patrols, 911 operators, Ambulance Medical Technicians and the formation of special units. This increase provides the NCPD a greater ability to intensify police patrols throughout local communities and assign officers to special units.
Several months ago, County Executive Mangano and the NCPD launched a new state-of-the-art school security program to help save countless lives in the event of an active shooter. In the coming months, this app-based program will be offered to JCCs and houses of worship.
Meanwhile, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, promoting a hotline (888-392-3644) to the State division of Human Rights, and instructing the New York State Police to coordinate with federal and local law enforcement to fully investigate and hold perpetrators accountable. He also introduced a $25 million grant program to boost safety and security at New York’s schools and day care centers “at risk of hate crimes or attacks because of their ideology, beliefs or mission.”
And just the day after this candlelight vigil at the Mid-Island JCC, a St. Louis man was arrested and charged with half a dozen bomb threats against Jewish community centers, schools and a Jewish history museum. Juan Thompson, 31, is alleged to have made some of the threats in his own name and others in the name of a former girlfriend, apparently in an attempt to intimidate her. The man was apparently known to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and had worked for a news website, The Intercept, for a year until he was fired in January after it was discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles, the New York Times reported.
“Today’s arrest sends a strong message that anyone who targets and instills fear in our communities will be brought to justice,” Governor Andrew Cuomo stated.
New Yorkers who have experienced bias or discrimination are encouraged to call DHR’s toll-free hotline at (888) 392-3644 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday – Friday or text “HATE” to 81336.
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