The reaction to the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the deadliest against the Jewish community in American history, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum told the Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Manhattan, to be more Jewish, more visibility, not be (terrorized) into bunkers or invisibility.
Leading a communal shiva service, she said, “We will study, build community and not lose our focus as to what it is to be Jewish.”
New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, addressing a communal Shiva gathering for victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh said, “The word is resilience, a refusal to succumb to victimhood. That’s how we win out. Willingness to gather as a community …
“The shock, outrage, disbelief, overwhelming sadness and grief is overwhelming,” she said.
“How it happened? We don’t have political courage to ban weapons that allow such carnage.
“As to why? We know there is hatred, evil, but in t last two years, it has evolved… Evil lurking under surface, the serpents feeling they can rise up out from under rocks because leadership is willing to do the same. .. What was submerged is unleashed.
“What gives hope is the knowledge that no child is born anti-Semitic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic. [We must] capture hearts and minds of next generation before they learn hate.”
She advised, “Live a more publicly Jewish way, not be a victim, but embrace your heritage and embrace the ones not yet [tainted] by hate. Push [hate] back under a rock.
“On behalf of Governor Cuomo and 20 million New Yorkers, I express condolences to all of us because we are all heartbroken today.”
Rabbi Kleinbaum noted that the first response after the news of the massacre in Pittsburgh came via text and email from Muslim and Christian leaders in the city.
She said that since the inauguration, she and members of the synagogue have held a vigil at the nearby mosque every Friday, to stand up for Muslims who have been vilified by Trump.
“We say to ourselves what would it have been like in Berlin, in Vienna, if non-Jewish Germans and Austrians stood with their Jewish neighbors.
And now, the Iman has said his members would come to the synagogue this Friday before Shabbat services.
“We are in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he wrote. “Throughout the constant attacks and dehumanization from this administration, [Beit Simcha Torah] has been a source of faith and love. … Our duty is to stand with our Jewish brother and sisters. We stand with them, put our bodies on the line for their safety. … [We must] stamp out White Supremacy and anti-Semitism….Any attack on your community is an attack on ours.”
Rabbi Kleinman said, “We can replace hate in the world, the violence, with love.”
She noted that the attack on Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh was not only an act of anti-Semitism, but because the synagogue supported refugees to the US.
“Abraham was told to leave his home, go to a place he did not know and build and live there.
HIAS – Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society – provided finances to help Jews, and today, HIAS helps non-Jews become part of the American tapestry, “because we are Jews, we welcome the stranger, the immigrant,” she said.
“God forbid this act of violence deters us from that, puts us into bunkers. That’s what the terrorists, anti-Semities want…. We must respond to anti-Semitism with deepened strength of Jewish identity. We must not let fear, despair control us.
At the end of the service, members of the synagogue’s board read the names and something personal about each of the 11 victims at Tree of Life Synagogue, murdered for no other reason than being Jewish. Most notably, was the personal remembrance of Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, 66 years old, who was one of the first to treat people with HIV. The gentleman had grown up in Pittsburgh and was treated by Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, until he left Pittsburgh in 2004. “He was the one to go to. He was known in the community for keeping us alive the longest. He held us without gloves. You will be remembered by me always. You are one of my heroes.”
It is also notable that the first to treat the assassin at the hospital were Jewish, including a doctor who was a congregant at Tree of Life.
“I refuse to give up on the dream of what this world could be,” Rabbi Kleinbaum said, “[to be a victim of] the violence, hatred unleashed by this administration. I refuse to give up on the power of human beings. We who are Jews, have a deep and proud tradition. There are those who would want us to turn inward. Don’t believe that.
“Before the immigration laws, a young boy whose mother couldn’t speak English, came with no money, worked very hard cleaning other people’s homes and would tell him, ‘God bless America,’ not because it was perfect but it was better than the place she fled. The son grew up in New York City, became one of the greatest songwriters. Irving Berlin wrote “God Bless America,” not as a militaristic, triumphant chant. He wrote it as a prayer. He wrote it understanding her dream, coming to this country without skills, language or money, for her son to grow up away from a land that hated Jews. God Bless America. We won’t give up. And remember to vote. Sing it, as a prayer.”
And the congregation sang.
Founded in 1973, Congregation Beit Simchat Torah (CBST) is a progressive synagogue that attracts and welcomes gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, queer and straight, individuals and families who share common values. Hochul had participated in the opening of the building in 2016.
Following the deadliest assault on the Jewish Community in US History, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo delivered remarks at an Interfaith Prayer Vigil at Central Synagogue in New York City with Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and other interfaith leaders including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Reverend Amy Butler, Pastor Amandus Derr and Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz.
Earlier in the day, Governor Cuomo announced that the $10 million grant program to help protect New York’s non-public schools and cultural centers, including religious-based institutions, against hate crimes is now accepting applications. Additionally, the Governor directed that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff until sunset on Sunday, November 4 in honor of the victims of the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a supermarket in Jeffersontown, Kentucky.
Cuomo began by evoking Rabbi Angela Buchdahl’s extraordinary background as exemplifying America and New York State:
“The Rabbi was born in South Korea, to a Japanese-born Korean Buddhist mother, and a father who was an American Ashkenazi Reform Jew. Her father’s ancestors emigrated from Romania to the United States. At the age of five, she moved to the United States with her family.
“She was raised Jewish, attending Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Washington, which her great-grandparents had assisted in founding a century before. Rabbi Buchdahl is the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor and as a rabbi in the world. My friends, that says it all – God Bless America. Only in America. She is the first woman and the first Asian-American to be the Senior Rabbi of Central Synagogue in its 175-year history. God Bless the state of New York.
“But we gather tonight on a somber moment, because this is a dark and frightening time in our nation. Our better angels are being overpowered. The character of America is being perverted. And yes, the power of hate is overtaking the power of love. We mourn and we embrace the families of the 11 victims in Pittsburgh and grieve with them. We mourn and grieve for the African American community in Kentucky. And, we suffer with those who endured the anxiety and threats of mail bombs last week.
“But we would not be here tonight if these were isolated incidents. They are not. There is a frightening pattern developing on many levels of American society. Anti-Semitic incidents have increased 57 percent nationwide. Neo-Nazi groups have increased 22 percent in this country. Nativists and white supremacy groups are on the rise. At the demonstration in Charlottesville in August, 2017, members of the Ku Klux Klan felt so empowered they didn’t even need to wear hoods to hide their faces. The societal fabric of America is stressed and frayed. We gather this evening to pray and to marshal the voices of support and love as an antidote to the forces of division and hate.
“Elie Wiesel said, ‘there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.’ As Governor, I pray with you this evening. But as Governor, I also state in the strongest terms that we are a nation of laws and we are a state is a state of laws, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination or hate in the state of New York. Hate is not protected by our law, not in speech and not in action. Quite the opposite. And our state has the most aggressive hate crimes laws in the county and I announced today that we are doubling both our security efforts and our prevention efforts. You have my word as governor that we will stamp out the evil of discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head. The Jewish community is an important member of the family of New York and we will protect our family–all together, all united.
“But I am afraid that enforcing the law, while an essential important step is not the only step. Being prepared to fight the fire is necessary, but we must work to prevent the fires from starting in the first place. I feel as if we are standing in a field of dry grass with smoldering embers surrounding us. And a strong wind is shifting directions. We must stamp out the embers before they become flames and we must reduce the winds of hate that threaten the fields of peace.
“There are those who now will wrap themselves in the flag of America and then go out and do violence in the name of America. But they could not be more wrong or more misguided. They do not begin to understand the character of America, and they disgrace the very flag they carry. Our founding fathers would be repulsed by these ignorant acts of violence.
“In school, one of the first lessons we learn about America is when we are asked to raise our hands to the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Indivisible. With liberty and justice for all. Whatever your religion, whatever your race, whatever your creed, we are indivisible.
“Our founding fathers anticipated that there would be differences because we were born as a collection across the globe. But we would have, as Jefferson said, “a decent respect” for the opinions of others. One of our Founders’ first acts was to pass a law to make the motto on the seal of the United States, “E Pluribus Unum”—out of many, one. It set the tone of unity and commonality. The very same founders didn’t fear immigration, they embraced it. It was the British government’s bid to block migration to the colonies, that was among one of the reasons cited for the Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.
“The tremendous right to practice your religion of freedom was a powerful magnet drawing many to America. The Pilgrims were separatists from the Church of England, the Huguenots settled the Hudson Valley, French Protestants fleeing persecution in Roman Catholic France, English Catholics under George Calvert colonized Maryland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, Jewish people in Rhode Island, seeking the religious freedom established by Roger Williams.
“One year into his presidency, George Washington visited a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island as the first amendment was being debated. To his Jewish hosts, Washington wrote a remarkable letter. He reasserted that the Government of the United States, quote, ‘gives no sanction to bigotry, no assistance to persecution, and requires only that the people who live under the protection of the government conduct themselves as good citizens.’
“Washington quoted the bible to remind them that, in effect, they had reached their Promised Land: ‘May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while everyone shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.’
“That was George Washington. There was no period that tested our unity more than the Civil War. And as the war closed, President Abraham Lincoln pointed the nation to the future in his Second Inaugural Address, saying: ‘With malice towards none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds — to achieve and cherish a just, and lasting peace.’
“Lincoln’s invoking god is relevant and instructive. We are one nation under God. It is not just our government that instructs peace and tolerance, but our religious heritage as well. We are gathered in a house of worship today. Christianity teaches us tolerance. Matthew 25 instructs us Catholicism to do for the least of our brothers. Judaism speaks to the concept of Tikkun Olam, to reach out and heal the breach, and the concept of Tzedakah literally charity, but more broadly meaning the concept of social justice. Buddhism, Islam, virtually every religion speaks of tolerance, acceptance, and condemns violence.
“The victims in Pittsburgh were engaged in a sacred Jewish naming ceremony of a newborn—a bris—celebrating the joy of a new life, only to perish in the face of hate. We will not let them die in vain. We must once again, in Lincoln’s words, “bind up the nation’s wounds.” We must rise above our traditional political divisions. We must refrain from fanning the embers of hate before the flames are out of control. Our American values override our political, partisan differences. Intolerant voices of division must be condemned by all, and not episodically, but consistently. Not only for public consumption but genuinely with personal commitment. Political debate must honor Jefferson’s mandate of civil discourse. Our political leaders must heed this wisdom today.
“At this time of chaos, confusion, ignorance and fear, this nation needs a light to follow. And Let that light be the torch that is held by the great lady in our harbor. Let New York State once again serve this nation as an example to follow. That is the legacy of this great state: throughout history, a beacon of progressive values. We are home to 19 million people from every nation on the globe–New York State is the laboratory of the American experiment in democracy. We are not threatened by diversity, we celebrate diversity. Generations of immigrants stepped off ships and planes onto our shores. This state has thrived because we have no tolerance for discrimination. Not in our laws, and not in our spirit. We are a people of differences, but we have forged community through chords of commonality. This state exemplifies the best of the American spirit.
“The Rabbi asks us what we can do. Let us commit ourselves this evening to a constructive course of action. Let New Yorkers exemplify what it means to be a true American patriot. Let New York show this nation what the flag actually means. Let us lead forward in the way of darkness. Let us lead as a government, as a community and let us lead as individual citizens. Let us lead this nation at this time of confusion by the power of our example. There is no place for hate in our state and New York lives by the credo: that the most powerful four-letter word is still love.”
In her remarks, Rabbi Buchdahl noted that she expressed concern of the rise in anti-Semitism during Rosh Hashanah services. “I never expected, six weeks later, the worst attack on Jews in the United States ever. It is the Jewish community’s worst nightmare, impossible to believe here in America. Not just as Jews – Muslims, immigrants – day after pipe bombs against prominent Democrats, and two Blacks shot dead. Charlottesville. A gay nightclub in Florida. A Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. There is a systemic environment where hate can grow.
“Anti-Semitism is the oldest, most adaptive hatred in history. But where tolerance for anti-Semitism, there is tolerance for hate of all kinds. This is not an America we want to leave to our children.
Rising Anti-Semitism, demonization of immigrants and refugees, gun violence, fake news on social media and the dark web.
“But now, we call to our higher selves. We ask, how do we make sure love wins, solidarity and faith and goodness win. There are hundreds of vigils taking place all over the nation and the world.
“You may have needed courage to show up in a synagogue. You will need more courage to build alliances even with people with whom you don’t agree and to people who hate us, in order to build bridges and rise above cynicism.”
The bimah was lined with representatives of the spectrum of faith in New York.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan noted that the gospel on Sunday, the day after the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue began, “It was the Sabbath and Jesus went to the synagogue to pray.” “The people in St. Patrick’s gasped at the profound nature of that: “it was the Sabbath and Jesus went to the synagogue to pray.” Jesus, he said, “the faithful Jew.”
Reverend Amy Butler pointed to the power of words. “The violence we saw did not begin at 9:54 on a Saturday morning. It was generations of hate, lies that has found refuge in the political climate where words are weaponized for political gain. Language that dehumanizes, foments suspicion and fear rather than love and compassion. That’s what resulted in a gunman walking into a synagogue. We reject discrimination and hatred.”
Pastor Amandus Deer noted that he has spoken from Central Synagogue’s bimah dozens of times to mark “Shoah,” which marks the beginning of the Holocaust, with a call to “Never Again.” “I am heart broken,” he said, leading a reading of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me…”
Rabbi Buchdahl pointed to the ancient Jewish custom of tearing cloth to mourn a close relative. “We lost 13 innocent souls [11 in Pittsburgh and two African Americans gunned down in Kentucky] to acts of hate and violence. We are all mourners. They might want to t3ear our community apart; they can’t tear what binds us together as Americans. The ribbons remind us of the work we have to do.”
Each of the dignitaries then lit a candle for those who were taken and a special prayer of memory was recited. Noting the obligation to remember those who have died, Rabbi Steinmetz remarked that one of the murdered, Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, would say kaddish for those who died but did not leave family to recite the prayer. “His reason was that they would not be forgotten. “
The synagogue, which dates from 1872 and is the oldest synagogue in continuous operation in New York City, packed some 1,250 people into every seat.
Participants included Governor Andrew Cuomo, Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, Cantor Dan Mutlu,Cantor Julia Cadrain, Rabbi Mo Salth, Cardinal timothy Dolan, Reverend Amy Butler, Pastor Amandus Derr, Iman Shansi Ali, Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, Iman Tahir Kukaj, Reverend Bertram Johnson, Dianne Lob, Rabbi Deborah Joselow, Rabbi Lori Koffman, Rabbi Nicole Auerbach, and Dr.Simran Jeet Singh.
The interfaith service concluded with a prayerful singing of a song which begins, “It is a tree of life to those who hold fast to it.”
What is most remarkable about the HBO short film, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” is how effectively and clearly it presents the Holocaust to young people – 8 and 9 year olds, the fourth generation, and how urgent it is to have such a teaching tool with the last of the survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, passing away into eternal silence.
The short film, created with live action, photos and videos and most remarkably, watercolor paintings that animate the still photos, strikes just the right tone.
You are privy to the astute questions and storytelling by 10-year old Elliott and his 90-year old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, and fall into his memories – of a happy childhood in Poland, not quite carefree but with no existential fear, until everything changed.
The HBO film, which aired on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, was presented for its Long Island premiere at the Gold Coast Arts Center, in a free program (a second showing had to be organized to accommodate the number of people who wanted to attend), in commemoration of Yom Hashoahin Partnership with the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County and Great Neck Sh’ai, and featured a conversation with Irving Roth, a Holocaust survivor with a similar story to Jack’s, the great-grandfather in the film. Indeed, Roth came with his own granddaughter and great-grandchild, a touching display of the miracle of survival.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm,” executive produced by Sheila Nevins and directed and produced by Amy Schatz, with the evocative animation art of Jeff Scher, was inspired by David A. Adler’s 1987 book; Adler is well known to children for his popular Cam Jansen series.
In this moving film, 10-year-old Elliott asks his 90-year-old great-grandfather, Jack, about the number tattooed on his arm, sparking an intimate conversation about Jack’s life that spans happy memories of childhood in Poland, the loss of his family, surviving Auschwitz, and finding a new life in America. Their tender exchange is woven with historical footage and hand-painted animation to tell a heartbreaking story of Jewish life in Eastern Europe before and during the Holocaust.
You are first introduced to Jack who mentions how much he loves hats, and can’t resist buying them. A little later, you learn that his father was a hat maker and had a shop in Poland. The last time he saw his parents was when he was 14, taken away by Nazis and sent to a labor camp where inmates were worked to death. “We were slaves, forced to dig holes just to make work.” He receives a cap his father has managed to send and finds some money hidden in it, which he uses to bribe the guard for extra food. “That extra food was how I survived.”
“I always hoped to see my parents again. Always think about them.” But Jack never saw his parents again.
Jack was sent to Auschwitz, and then, when the Germans realized they were losing the war, put on a death march to Buchenwald, forced to march without food or shoes. “Thousands and thousands died,” Elliott relates. “If they stopped, they were shot and thrown into a hole.”
His great-grandfather was finally liberated in August 1945 by the Russians, and then by the Americans. He went back to his hometown, but no one he knew was left. He married and ultimately took a boat to start a new life in America, where he opened a fish market.
His worker says, “This is the only place a man can get food for no money.”
Elliott says, ”We need to know the story to stop it from happening. In a year or two, no survivors will be left. We want to get the stories before they pass away.”
At the Great Neck screening, Irving Roth, a survivor of Auschwitz and the Death March to Buchenwald, related his experience which so eerily mirrored that of Jack.
Irving Roth was born in Czechoslovakia in 1929. He grew up going to school and playing soccer. But by 1938, as the Nazis took power, his life, step by step, became more constricted, bleaker. Jews were not allowed to attend school, play soccer, or go to the park. His family lost their lumber business and they forced into hiding in Hungary.
In 1944, at the age of 14, he was loaded into a cattle car and transported to Auschwitz, a three-day journey with many dying along the route Once there, he was immediately separated from his grandfather, grandmother, aunt, and 10-year-old cousin. He never seen them again – they were sent to the gas chambers.
Of the 4000 on the train, only 300 survived, he said.
Roth and his brother survived Auschwitz but in January 1945, with the Germans realizing they were losing the war, the concentration camp victims were forced on the infamous death march to Buchenwald. Roth was separated from his brother who was sent to Bergen Belsen where he later died. Buchenwald was liberated on April 11, 1945. Roth returned home to find his parents, the only other surviving family members.
But when he arrived back in his town, the reaction was hardly welcoming. “The comment was ‘So many Jews survived, more came back than left.’ It made it easy to leave,” he said.
Roth is the director of Temple Judea of Manhasset Holocaust Resource Center’s Adopt A Survivor Program which brings together children in the greater New York Region with Holocaust Survivors, where he feels a duty to relate the horror of the Holocaust.
“We tell a story of horrific proportion. It’s an important job. 6 million Jews were exterminated because of the lie that Jews were responsible for all the problems of the world. The world needs to know what happened – Shoah did not happen all at once. It began with a simple statement: I hate you.
“I call that the first signpost along the road. A few steps beyond, ‘I don’t like you because of what you are.’ And then, ‘You are not human.’ The next step, ‘I don’t want you to live in my town, my country, I don’t want you to live at all.’ Those are the signposts along the road.
“People need to understand, as you look at the world today, every day, I see the signposts along the road.”
“When I see a missile being paraded in Tehran with words, ‘To be delivered to Tel Aviv’, those are identical ideas perpetrated and spoken of in the 1920s, 1930s – resulting in total devastation.
“I see in my mind that weapon lifting off the ground and murdering tens of thousands – that’s why it’s important to understand, to watch the signposts along the road. I ask you to understand the Shoah – study the Shoah – see the step by step process so you recognize the words, the signposts – to insure that anything of that nature never happens again.
“There are always evil people in the world – it is the choice that God gave you. I am glad have a video of this nature to show to young people so can begin to understand evil an good.”
830,000 were murdered in Treblinka, alone.”It’s hard to imagine that many murdered. I ask you to take one, let them be part of you – if we don’t remember them, it is as if they never existed.”
Just a week ago, Roth made a trip to Poland, where the leadership has made discussing the Holocaust a crime, where they have replaced the signs at Auschwitz to shield the Polish people from any culpability, and where they have shut down Schindler’s factory which had been kept as a museum.
One of the places we visited last week was the Warsaw Zoo in Warsaw, where Antonina and her husband, Jan Żabiński, the zoo director, saved the lives of 300 Jews who had been imprisoned in the Warsaw.
“There were 3.5 million Jews before the war; now if you look hard, you might find 35,000. Poland would like to say that 6 million Poles were murdered – 3 million Jews and 3 million Catholics. Poland wants to be recognized as a Western country, wants to bury its history of persecution of Jews as soon as possible so the world will not know. In Auschwitz last week, going through the exhibits, they are selling propaganda, that no Pole was responsible…. Now, if you say ‘Auschwitz was a Polish death camp,’ you go to jail.”
“Two extremes of humanity existed in Shoah –there were too few Chasidim (righteous), too many on the other side. Our job is to make sure our neighbors, our friends in our country, in every country understand the sacred nature of every human being – through understanding Shoah, we can understand how evil comes to be. We must not let evil triumph again.”
Roth raises concern about a rise of anti-Semitism.
“Anti-Semitism has been replaced in an acceptable form to many people – that’s why we need to understand. It is no longer ‘anti-Semitism’ it is called ‘anti-Israel’. This is a new form of anti-Semitism, repackaged so brilliantly, Goebbels would be proud. All of a sudden, Jews are aggressors.”
He noted that a United Nations conference held to review treatment of rights declared only one country an oppressor of women – not Saudi Arabia or Sudan, but Israel.
Roth has spoken at hundreds of schools. “On college campuses around the country, Israel is cast as an oppressor of Palestinians, even committing genocide.
“Our children and grandchildren must know because they have to stand up to the lies on college campuses. What is on campus today will be policy tomorrow. Make sure your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren understand, the lies, the history. Unless we really know it, we can’t argue. 99% of evil people have no idea what history is – one student at university said the reason problem exists in Mideast is because of Jews, that it is because when Israel was formed in May 1948., Israel attacked 5 Arab countries. Do you think a country just born, with no army navy, air force would attack five countries. Is that possible? ‘Oh,’ he said.
“We need to be prepared to fight this evil, every day of the week.”
On the other hand, unabashed Holocaust deniers have gained prominence. Arthur Jones, 70, of Lyons, Illinois, a former head of the American Nazi Party and self-described white racialist and Holocaust denier, is the Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd district which includes parts of Chicago.
Glickman noted the importance of bringing Holocaust study into communities, particularly communities where there are not a lot of Jews or Holocaust survivors and why a curriculum is being developed by the museum, supported by the City and State’s Department of Education for middle school and high school children for ELA and social studies- some 400,000 students, the vast majority of which are not Jewish.
It is for this reason of making the Holocaust relevant to non-Jews that it has become a common practice among Holocaust museums (such as in St. Petersburg, Dallas, Houston), to keep a running clock of the numbers killed in genocides since the Holocaust, such as Rwanda.
But Roth expressed concern “that the Holocaust is being de-Judeized. There is nothing wrong in discussing Rwanda genocide, but you have to understand the difference between Holocaust and mass murders that have taken place. The death of 5 million Ukrainians during Stalin – but the objective was not the destruction of Ukrainians, the objective was collectivization of Russia; the objective of Rwanda was control. The Holocaust objective was destruction of the Jews. That’s not the same. Death is death you might say, but the cause of it.” He argues against lumping individual genocides together. “We need to understand the differences and similarities. This is what I do every time I speak. In churches, I have spoken to 500,000 Christians all over the United States. I talk about Shoah and what is happening today, how the propaganda of today is a replica of the 1930s. They understand. That’s what we need to do.”
The film is part of a new curriculum in conjunction with Scholastic being rolled out to some 1,500 schools, and organizations can make arrangements for a screening, Michael Glickman, who is president and CEO of the Museum of Jewish Heritage as well as president of the Gold Coast Arts Center, said.
“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” was aired on HBO in January and is streaming for free at hbo.com. It was screened at Gold Coast Arts Center as part of the Gold Coast Cinema series, goldcoastfilmfestival.org.
An accompanying installation on view at the Museum of Jewish Heritage features the art of acclaimed artist Jeff Scher, whose rotoscope animation brings the film’s archival footage and photos to life. Visitors of all ages are invited to explore this incredible work, view the film, and experience the transformative power of survivors’ stories. (For more info on the exhibit visit www.mjhnyc.org).
Nearly 200 Long Island activists turned out for a demonstration that took up two corners of the busy Jericho Turnpike and the Walt Whitman Boulevard in Huntington Station to show outrage at the blatant racism and violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, causing the death of a 32-year old woman and sending 19 others to hospital.
The rally was organized by Ron Widelec of Long Island Activists, in conjunction with Long Island Progressive Coalition, NY 2nd District Democrats (Republican Peter King’s district); Action Together Long Island, Get 2 Work Long Island, Suffolk Progressives. Widelec posted the event on moveon.org and the Indivisible site, where it was listed among many protests, rallies, vigils taking place throughout the metropolitan area, to give people, hungry for a way to express their horror at what befell Charlottesville, a means of expressing their outrage.
Drivers in a steady stream of cars honked in support; a few used hand gestures to express their opposition.
The gathering was also notable for a whole slew of Democratic elected officials and candidates, including New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, Assemblyman Phil Ramos 96th district, Brentwood newly elected Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino (who won her seat for State Assembly in a district that Trump won by 18 points), and Nassau County Legislator Arnie Drucker, who was elected to fill the unexpired term of Judy Jacobs, plus a potpourri of candidates for Huntington and Oyster Bay supervisor and town council.
“Impeach Twitler… Never Again,” read the hand-drawn sign held high by Erica Fladell of Bethpage. “United against hate.” “Silence is deafening and can be dangerous”. “Stop Fascism Now.” were among the other banners.
Indeed, Trump has shown more venomous outrage in tweets against political opponents, the press (“fake news”), even Merck CEO Kenneth C. Frazier, who quit a White House business advisory panel over President Trump’s statement blaming “many sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, Va., as well as the “fire and fury” threat to North Korea that he said was not “tough enough,” than he does against the White Supremacists, KKK and neo-Nazis.
And Trump only belatedly – two days later – acknowledged the murder of Heather Heyer, giving no mention at all to the other 19 victims, while expressing sympathy for two state troopers killed in a helicopter crash and reaffirming his campaign pledge to “restore law and order.”
Indeed, his first statement was a kind of disclaimer of responsibility for these groups who have not just come out of shadows and fringes, but have been emboldened even validated by his ascension.
The protesters who have taken to the streets in hundreds of rallies around the country, took exemption to his statement, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” as hollow by adding “on many sides, on many sides,” as if to equivocate the level of responsibility and source of violence.
And in a classic Trumpism of denying all responsibility, he added, “it has been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama, this has been going on for a long, long time.”
The protesters though, saw it differently.
“The hoods are off. They don’t feel the need to cover their faces,” one woman declared. “White nationalism is a political position to have now.”
Indeed, in Charlottesville, former KKK leader David Duke, said, “We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump.”
The chant on Jericho Turnpike went up:
“No Trump. No KKK
No Fascist USA”
Trump “doesn’t even denounce or condemn these hate groups..but will appoint White Supremacists [like Steve Bannon, Steve Miller, and Sebastian Gorka, who has ties to a neo-Nazi organization in Hungary] to his administration. That’s why we’re here,” declared Liuba Grechen Shirley, founder of NY 2nd District Democrats, to challenge Republican Peter King, who has been staunchly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim under the guise of national security.
“Some of us are here because our father fought a war against Nazism,” said Virginia McNulty of Plainview. He would be horrified.”
Indeed, though Administration toadies tried to proclaim that Trump had, in fact, denounced racist violence, neo-Nazis took aid and comfort in his remarks, hailing his statement as an endorsement.
“He didn’t attack us,” The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist website, exulted in response to Trump’s statement on Saturday: “Refused to answer a question about White Nationalists supporting him. No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, he just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.”
I come up with my own chant:
“No Fear. No Hate
No American Fascist State”
Great Neck Vigil
Later, I joined another gathering, this time in the Old Village of Great Neck, in front of the US Post Office.
People came from as far as Levittown, West Hempstead, Whitestone to the Old Village of Great Neck to register their horror and outrage at the blatant show of force by White Supremacists and Neo-Nazis that led to the death of a 32-year old woman in Charlottesville, Virginia. With just a few hours notice, dozens came to demonstrate their somber support of the founding principles and values of America.
The vigil was organized by Karen Ashkenase and David Zielenziger who posted on moveon.org and indivisible sites.
“We are standing in solidarity with Charlottesville. Join us. Bring a candle. We honor the dead, hope for recovery for the injured and demand Trump explicitly condemn alt-Right extremism and violence!”
With just a few hours notice, the vigil had drawn almost 3 dozen who came from as far as Levittown, Bellerose, West Hempstead and Whitestone.
“We wanted Great Neck to hold a vigil… to protest this outrage, killing, violence and Trump,” said David Zielenziger.
He was incensed after Trump failed to denounce White Supremacists, the KKK and the Neo-Nazis who flooded into Charlottesville, even holding a flaming torch march through the University of Virginia campus, to protest taking down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
He specifically wanted a demonstration in the Old Village (as opposed to the more trafficked areas like Great Neck Plaza) because the Village of Great Neck, along with Kings Point and Saddle Rock on the Peninsula, voted for Trump in significant majorities.
“For the community to do nothing, was outrageous.”
The Great Neck Peninsula had recently formed a new progressive action group, North Shore Action.
“Even the skin-heads came from immigrants, and if they don’t realize we’re a country of immigrants – that we’re all here together… I won’t let [Trump’ divide us,” said Joseph Varon of West Hempstead, holding a poster of the Statue of Liberty and a portion of Emma Lazarus’ poem that is at its base, “Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The message of the vigil, he added, is that “even though disheartened, we need to act locally, write letters, come to demonstrations, and vote. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”
“This can happen openly because of an environment the Trump administration has established: condoning anti-Semitism, bigotry. The environment he created,” said Shelley Sherman of Great Neck.
Compare the protests at Ferguson, Missouri last summer after an unarmed Black man, Michael Brown, was gunned down by police, where a militarized police force came with tanks and tear gas to suppress Black protesters, while self-proclaimed vigilantes patrolled with assault rifles, she noted. In Charlottesville, the White Supremacists came with assault weapons strapped to their bodies, with helmets and shields and home-made pepper spray, and flaming torches.
“The Trump Administration created an environment that has enabled people to say, ‘Heil.’” Indeed, after Trump won election, Richard Spencer, an alt-right leader, at a Washington DC conference led the crowd in “Hail Trump” cheers and Nazi salute.
Three generations of Emru women came from Levittown to protest: Christina Emru, a 70-year old grandmother; granddaughter Sofia, 8 years old, and Dara, her daughter.
They each brought hand-written signs. Christina’s read, “I can’t believe I’m 70 years odl and I’m still fighting the same hate and racism from the 1950s.”
“The hate, the fact that all of this hatred is made acceptable, when it’s not,” exclaimed Julie Eigenberg of Great Neck. “they are making it acceptable for people to treat each other badly, that they can march through UVA with flaming torches. That’s not free speech. It’s intimidation.”
“I’m fearful it will take so long to undue the damage to our culture,” said Debra Michlewitz of Bay Terrace. “
The next day, Trump came out with a speech clearly crafted for him in which he
“Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans,” he said rather begrudgingly, as if in a hostage video. He has expressed no condolence for the 32 year old woman who was killed, nor any concern for the 19 mowed down by James Alex Fields, Jr., of Ohio.
His words were clearly scripted for him – the phrases, let alone the themes, are alien to the way he actually speaks. They were certainly not from his heart, let alone his mind. And they probably were accompanied by a furtive wink-and-nod. His peeps know his true heart.
Eight-year old Sofia’s efforts were not in vain, though. What the protests, did was put Trump and the Republicans on notice, forcing Trump to make this declaration and even forcing Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions to take a stand to prosecute Heather Heyer’s murderer.
While defending Trump’s comments following the car-ramming attack in Charlottesville which took Heather Heyer’s life (he knows better than to cross his leader), Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised the Department of Justice would take “vigorous action” to defend the rights of Americans to protest bigotry.
“Well [Trump] made a very strong statement that directly contradicted the ideology of hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, white supremacy — those things must be condemned in this country,” Sessions said on the TODAY show on Monday. “They’re totally unacceptable, and you can be sure that this Department of Justice, in his administration, is going to take the most vigorous action to protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry.”
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.