These are the remarks of Second Gentleman Douglas Emhoff at a Roundtable on Combatting Antisemitism, held at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Krakow, Poland:
SECOND GENTLEMAN DOUGLAS EMHOFF: Thank you all for being here.
Thank you to the Galicia Jewish Museum for hosting us and to Director Jakub Nowakowski.
It’s really fitting to gather here today. The Museum aims to challenge stereotypes and to educate Poles and Jews about their own histories – my history.
The Museum also encourages everyone to think about our shared future.
My trip to Poland and Germany has two main priorities:
One: I am here not only to honor the victims of the Holocaust, but to talk about and educate people on the true nature of the Holocaust.
Let’s be clear: the Holocaust was real.
It happened. And there is no denying that.
It was a systemic, state-sponsored mass murder aimed to annihilate the Jewish people. This atrocity was motivated by antisemitic ideology and ethnic hatred.
This trip is a major part of our Administration’s effort to push back against Holocaust denial, distortion, and disinformation.
Two: I am here as a representative of President Biden and my wife, Vice President Harris, to deepen our relationships with European partners — in and out of government — to combat the rise in antisemitism.
The President and Vice President have made a priority of revitalizing our partnerships and alliances—and that extends to fighting hate and antisemitism.
Yesterday, I visited Auschwitz and participated in the wreath laying and memorial service. The service was incredibly moving and powerful.
I am still trying to process what I saw.
The magnitude of cruelty, hate, and evil that Auschwitz represents is just staggering.
As the first Jewish spouse of a United States President or Vice President, I know this visit has a special significance — for me, for our Administration, and for Jews around the world.
My great-grandparents fled persecution in Poland 120 years ago. I am here because they were able to leave.
Yet, so many others were not.
I feel a deep connection to all those who perished in Auschwitz. I know many American Jews feel the same way.
It was an incredibly solemn and sad experience but, it also reminds us why the work we are doing is so important.
Given the rise in antisemitism, it is important for me — and for all of us — to put a spotlight on the history of Jews in Europe.
We know that in some cases knowledge about the Holocaust among young people is vague or nonexistent.
We must find new ways to remember and educate the next generation about the horrors of the Holocaust.
To tell the testimonies of survivors.
To remember the stories of those that perished.
And work to ensure “Never Again.”
This convening is a critical part of that.
Antisemitism has been around for centuries. It is based on lies, misleading tropes, and falsehoods that we are all too familiar with.
Antisemitism is also ever evolving. Our efforts to combat it must be wide-ranging and relentless.
We must learn to recognize antisemitism in its many forms, so that we can call hate by its proper name and take effective action.
Antisemitism has been around for millennia—and some call it the oldest form of hatred—but in recent years, it has been a growing threat in the United States, in Europe, and around the world.
We see ‘so-called’ leaders use antisemitic tropes to promote warped agendas or for their own political gain.
We see other ‘so-called’ leaders who lack the courage to speak out.
We see murderous attacks on Jewish communities.
We see vandalism, threats, and violent, hateful rhetoric.
People used to be afraid to say the ugly epithets and lies out loud. Now they are literally screaming them.
We are witnessing an epidemic of hate in our country and internationally.
President Biden and Vice President Harris are firmly committed to countering the rise in global antisemitism.
In fact, before I left on this trip, I spoke to President Biden and the Vice President about it.
The President spoke to me about how his father spoke to him about the horrors of the Holocaust at his dining room table.
And how when he became a father and grandfather, he took his children and grandchildren to see the Dachau concentration camp.
To teach the next generation the horrors of history.
The Vice President and I have spoken at length about these issues. She has spent her career—as Attorney General, United States Senator, and Vice President—combatting hate and working to bring people together in coalitions.
And she has really encouraged me to use this platform to push back on the scourge of hate.
They both have told me how important this trip is.
We all need to speak out against antisemitism and call out those who don’t.
We cannot normalize this. We must not stay silent.
We each need to do our part to educate those around us and instill knowledge in the next generation of leaders to help fight antisemitism.
And we are committed to working with you all – community leaders, religious leaders, and experts to take this on.
You all have done impressive work to promote tolerance, education, and inclusiveness.
I am with you in this fight.
So, on behalf of President Biden and Vice President Harris, it is my honor to join you here in Krakow today, and I am looking forward to our work together. Thank you.
Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, Long Island, New York, has long been an social justice and civil rights activist, and for more than 25 years, has hosted a Martin Luther King Shabbat Service. Indeed, Martin Luther King Jr., himself, addressed Temple Beth-El congregation from this pulpit 56 years ago.
“We do this service every year not merely to remember an historical event—as though it were a moment, or a series of moments, that occurred once and are now fossilized in time,” said Rabbi A. Brian Stoller. “If that were the case, we could simply read about it in history books as a matter of curiosity. We come together at sacred moments like this, year after year, to translate history into present and future.”
It is fitting that the MLK Shabbat Service happens to come when the Torah reading for Jews everywhere begins reading the book of Exodus, the story of how Moses led his people out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land of Milk and Honey.
Attorney General Letitia James gave the keynote. Here are highlights from her remarks:
The greatest honor and sign of respect is to be invited into another’s place of worship – this is a holy place. So many others have spoken here. I am honored and privileged to say a few words this evening, and be welcomed to your sanctuary. You can never take that for granted – many places in world, even in this country to have Jews, Christians, blacks, whites, young, old, coming together for most basic ritual we do.
That we are all together tonight, cannot be overstated – to pray, for spiritual enrichment, to summon God, to commemorate freedom from bondage and commemorate creation.
We all know someone who gave up something to be here – who sacrificed lives – parent/grandparents, survived Holocaust, pograms – perhaps we have some here this evening.
Our ancestors enslaved in Egypt, Europe and here in America – our ancestors fought for our right to be here- standing up to their oppressors, taking risks, protesting injustice.
It feels fitting that we receive that message from Torah this week, the week we honor the life, legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. – the person we most credit for the fight for civil rights, the quest for freedom.One of the most influential figures to enter history.
There were two midwives who engaged in the first recorded instance of civil disobedience: the new pharaoh decreed Jewish people were now slaves, midwives should kill their baby boys when they were born. But Shiphrah and Puah refused, feared doing something immortal more than they feared the pharaoh – midwives do what they do because that’s what a human being is supposed to do.
Pharoah continued to enslave the Jewish people for  years to come – but acts paved the way for Pharaoh’s daughter to take Moses from the river to nurture. Moses, who ultimately freed the Jewish people and lead them to the promised land.
We should learn from these midwives and pharoah’s daughter that when faced [with evil], even if means disobeying the rules, angering those who are powerful, [when called to do the right thing] the answer is simple, the answer is yes.
Dr. King led movement of ordinary people fed up with the injustices of society, savage inequities, who refused to move to the back of the bus, refused to leave the lunch counter, attend inferior schools, live in uninhabitable housing, but who could not exercise most basic right, right to vote.
He had hope for a better society [and that people would come forward like] Shiphrah and Puah, who marched with Dr King.
56 years ago Dr. King was here at this congregation, speaking of his vision that one day would live in harmony. He had two versions: “One is a beautiful America, where there is the milk of opportunity and the honey of equality. There is another America where the daily ugliness has transformed the buoyancy of hope into the fatigue of despair.”
We made progress but much more to do – there are many pharaohs who stand in our way, who try to push us down, drag us backwards – too many who would take advantage of the most vulnerable to line their pockets, who spread hate, who separate us by race and artificial constructs.
It can feel like we are in the eye of moral crisis. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by hate and bigotry that continues to spread in America. I am sure I am not alone.
It is overwhelming when we read of acts of antisemitism every day, see shocking videos of bigoted, deadly assaults against our fellow citizens, even worse, when we see children commit these acts of hate. Children should know better, should be taught to respect and love. . These individuals who engage in these deadly assaults simply because of racial, ethnic, religious differences, we must confront them, even if they are our neighbors, even if they look like us, we’ve got to confront them.
It can be all consuming to know white supremacists and their ideas are allowed to breed, fester in darkest corners of internet and basements, leading to Nazis in Charlottesville, and evil individuals targeting our houses of worship, like Mother Emanuel in Charleston, Tree of Life in Pittsburgh, a grocery store named Topps in Buffalo.
We can feel paralyzed by widespread attacks on fundamental rights, not knowing how to turn and respond, even as I stand before you, watching nationwide effort to deny us our voting rights, wystemic dismantling of hard fought civil rights gained at the Supreme Court, and efforts around the country to erase the Black and Jewish experience from textbooks, Diversity, inclusion at elementary schools, college campuses, workplaces.
Through it all, we find comfort that those who have seen ugly face of hate – women, Jews, Blacks, Asian, LBGTQ – understand we all carry the responsibility of standing up to it, have a special charge to show up and stand up for one another.
As an African American, I have responsibility to speak out against antisemitism, not just allow only the Jewish community to speak out, just as Martin Luther King reminded us that though it was illegal to aid and comfort Jews in Hitler’s Germany, but had he lived in Germany then, he would have aided Jewish brothers and sisters, even if it were illegal.
We have a responsibility to stand up taller, speak louder, act more deliberately, and if history is any guide for the future, we have so much to be hopeful about.
Jews and blacks have a long history that is intertwined – hands that made bricks without straw, joining with the hands that picked cotton, the hands of drum majors for justice, righteousness, all of us.
So many times in history, there were Jews who disobeyed the rules because they knew how wrong the rules were – this is what should be taught.
Far back, it was Jewish merchants in the South who would address Blacks as Mr. and Mrs., who would allow Black customers to enter the front door, not the back.
And when the fight for freedom hit the Supreme Court, it was research by American Jewish Committee and the Anti Defamation League, and American Jewish Congress that helped prevail – and all that was done in the halls of Howard University, where Blacks and Jews together came up with the winning legal strategy to overcome segregation in this nation.
Blood scattered all over the South. No one said Black blood, Jewish blood, just blood of those who died for what was right.
They worked voter registration drives because they believed the color of your skin didn’t make you more or, less of a person. Everyone’s voice should be equal.
It would have been easier, safer to follow the rules, stay home, stay silent, but no, the Torah teaches you that the moral imperative is to act – far greater than following the rules.
[As one who rarely follows rules I know] they knew consequences in face of such hateful aggressors but they acted anyway.
In 1963, at the March on Washington, before MLK delivered the “I have dream” speech, Rabbi [Joachim] Prinz [President of the American Jewish Congress] spoke, saying, “When I was the Rabbi of the Jewish community of Berlin under Hitler, I learned many things, most important was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem, the most urgent and the most disgraceful, shameful, tragic problem is silence.”
Just months before, while Martin Luther King was sitting in a Birmingham jail, arrested for participating in civil rights demonstration, he wrote, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for theappalling silenceof the good people.”
Some 60 years later, the good people are making their voices heard. The moral arc of universe is long but bends toward justice.
Continue to carry Dr King’s fight through 2023 and beyond.
Stand up for what we believe in, fighting back against those forces that seek to deny and divide us, committing to forward progress and being responsible to do right thing even when the odds are stacked against; breaking the rules that never should have been rules in the first place.
MLK had the audacity to stand up for the moral compass of our society.
Even though I may have my moments of doubt, sadness, I remain overwhelmingly hopeful, buoyed by progress we have made.
Just think: regardless of your politics tonight, when you see the son of a black woman who picked cotton, and the grandson of Jewish immigrants, standing together [as U.S.Senators] in a state in the cradle of Deep South, that’s progress.
When leaders of Democratic party in the Congress are Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries that’s progress.
And I am hopeful the cries for justice and equality are too loud, too strong and too diverse to be silenced or ignored, we march with millions of feet for progress cannot be ignored not now, or ever.
I am hopeful love, acceptance, inclusion will always push out hate, darkness, that these will be the ideals you pass along to your children…Teach them the beauty of all God’s children, that silence in face of hate and discrimination simply cannot be.
And God’s love, ah, god’s love knows no race, or ethnicity, that we are all covered by his grace and mercy.
I am hopeful because of people like all of you in this room – seeing that spark that ignites the fires of change, always simmering but never fully flamed throughout our nation’s history.
I am thankful this temple would embrace this woman, who believes in change, and fights each and every day for progress..
56 years ago you welcomed Dr King to your congregation at a time when people still feared each other and when many questioned Dr King’s intentions.
This congregation knew painfully well what was at stake and the heavy toll of silence…
In the beautiful words of your executive director, Stuart Botwinick, “Jews have a special responsibility to hold up and support those who are held down, and we continue till this day to look towards equality and civil rights, do our part to lift people up.”
All of you are essential to make progress possible, when it comes to fight the ugly face of discrimination…
I will stand with you …there is no space between us, to move our nation closer to the vision that Dr King had for all of us, because we, my friends, are all children of his dream, and that dream must live on. His legacy deserves it, we deserve it, so do our children…Let’s pray and keep the dream alive.
In the 2016 campaign, Trump, whose real estate business was sanctioned by the Department of Justice for discriminating against Blacks, absurdly told Black Americans, “What have you got to lose?” Well, in 2020, it is clear: your lives and your livelihoods. Blacks are disproportionately sickened and dying of COVID-19 and climate crises and are the victims of police brutality, killed by police and self-appointed vigilantes, in accelerated numbers.
While the Trump campaign parade Black Americans and people of color at the Republican National Convention and thousands assemble for a new March o n Washington in person and virtually, the Biden Campaign issued an indictment of how Trump has failed Black Americans and what a Biden administration would do to empower Black Americans.
Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris issued a statement on the 57th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom:
“The murder and violence toward Black Americans of the 1960s is happening today in broad daylight for the world to witness,” . A pandemic and economic crisis lays bare the systemic racism that still plagues our way of life. And instead of seeking to heal and unite, too many in our nation seek to inflame and divide.
“We’re in an ongoing battle for the soul of our nation. We condemn the violence. We cannot afford our cities and the bonds between us to be burned, broken, and scarred any further. We have to root out the racism, hate, and the vengeance.
“As our late friend John Lewis said with his final words, we must lay ‘down the heavy burdens of hate at last.’ We need to treat one another with the respect and dignity that each one of us deserves.
“And we must channel the spirit of this day 57 years ago as we’ve seen so many people of every age, race, and station do across the country over the last few months, and again this morning on the National Mall.
“With wisdom, courage, and faith, we must not turn away.
“We must choose the light and overcome.”
FACT SHEET: Trump Has Failed Black Americans
Trump has failed to deliver results for Black communities since Day One of his Administration. His failure to control COVID-19 has hurt Black Americans even more, leaving the community bearing the disproportionate brunt of COVID infections, deaths, and job loss. And, Trump’s failure to get the virus under control has worsened the economic crisis. It didn’t have to be this bad, and Black families are paying the price with their lives and livelihoods. Trump has:
Failed to address the racial disparities in the coronavirus pandemic and overseen a corrupt recovery that passed over Black small business owners. Trump didn’t have a plan to address COVID-19 and still doesn’t today. It didn’t have to be this bad — particularly for Black Americans and other people of color, who are disproportionately getting sick. Black unemployment hit 14.6%, and the unemployment gap between Black and White Americans widened further last month. And, Trump botched the delivery of assistance to small businesses, cutting out Black-and other minority-owned businesses in particular.
Sabotage Black Americans’ health care. Obamacare has saved the lives of countless Black Americans, increasing the number of insured by millions and prohibiting insurers from denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions like asthma, cancer, and diabetes. Now, Trump is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down that landmark law, leaving millions without coverage in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Put the wealthy and well-connected ahead of Black workers and communities. Trump has watered down key wage and workplace protections. He promised to veto a $15 minimum wage, and proposed a tip-pooling rule that would’ve let employers pay many non-tipped workers even less than today. He let federal contractors break laws requiring them to give workers of color a fair shot, and tried to let companies hide the truth when they don’t pay Black workers equal wages. And, Trump has done just as badly by Black entrepreneurs: he tried to slash funding for and even eliminate the federal agency that’s wholly dedicated to developing minority-owned businesses. Wealthy investors and Trump associates have reaped the benefits of Trump’s Opportunity Zones, while communities of color they’re supposed to help have been left behind.
Undercut the path to homeownership and affordable housing for Black Americans. Trump is trying to make it harder to fight housing discrimination and easier for lenders to exclude communities of color. He rolled back the Obama-era Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which fought racial bias in housing. He repeatedly called for cuts to affordable housing programs, slamming Black families, which have lower homeownership rates and are more likely to be low-income renters. And, Trump called for drasticcuts to subsidized housing and voucher programs, and for changes that would raise rents for low-income families.
Reversed work for racial equity in education. Trump and Betsy DeVos revoked rules designed to protect students of color from racial bias in school discipline. They did away with measures meant to help schools to diversify or implement inclusive affirmative action plans. And, Trump abandoned his promise to help students manage crippling college loans, leaving Black Americans three times more likely to default on that debt.
Highlights: How Joe Will Empower Black Americans
For too long, Black Americans have lived with a knee on their neck. Joe Biden knows they’ll never have a fair shot at the American Dream, so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity. With Senator Kamala Harris, he will rebuild our economy in a way that finally brings everyone along—and that starts by rooting out systemic racism from our laws, policies, institutions, and hearts. Highlights of Joe’s plans include:
Create wealth in the Black community. The typical white family holds approximately ten times more wealth than the typical Black family. Joe’s plan to Build Back Better will close the racial wealth gap, opportunity gap, and jobs gap. He will create millions of good-paying jobs, increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour, end paycheck discrimination, provide affordable child care for families, and leverage more than $150 billion in new capital and opportunities in economically disadvantaged areas, especially for Black owned small businesses and other small businesses that have been structurally excluded for generations. Because homeownership is key to building wealth, he’ll create a $15,000 down-payment tax credit for first-time home buyers. And Joe will set a goal that disadvantaged communities – including many Black communities – receive 40% of the overall benefits of his spending on infrastructure and clean energy.
Tackle health inequities. Black Americans are dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than whites, shedding light on the long-standing, pervasive disparities across our health care system. Joe will protect and build on Obamacare to ensure access to high-quality, affordable care beyond the crisis, including by providing Black Americans with a new health insurance option – a public option. He’ll also ensure Black communities have clean air to breathe and water to drink, and healthy foods to eat.
Address racial inequity in our education system. Joe will eliminate the funding gap between white and non-white districts, improve teacher diversity, and provide high-quality, universal preschool for all three and four-year-olds. He will invest over $70 billion in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Minority Serving Institutions to lower students’ costs, establish research centers, build high-tech labs, and more. Joe will also ensure Black Americans can attend community college without debt and make public colleges and universities tuition-free for families earning under $125,000 (including 90% of Black families). And he’ll relieve student debt, especially key for Black students who hold more debt and are three times more likely to default on loans than white borrowers. He’ll forgive undergraduate tuition-related federal student debt from public colleges and private HBCUs and MSIs for Americans earning up to $125,000.
Root out systemic racism in our police departments and justice system. Joe will outlaw choke holds, create a model use of force standard and a national police oversight commission, and push police departments to review their hiring, training, and de-escalation practices. He’ll expand and use the authority of the Justice Department, created by legislation he authored, to address systemic misconduct in police departments and prosecutors’ offices. He’ll also invest in public defenders’ offices, eliminate the death penalty and mandatory minimums, and end cash bail and private prisons. He’ll decriminalize the use of cannabis and automatically expunge all cannabis use convictions, and end incarceration for drug use alone.
The murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officer has galvanized the nation and the world. His murder was only one of a long, long list of murders and lynchings over decades. But this was a perfect storm that made its heinousness obvious to all: this was not the instant firing of a gun in a moment of fear, but a tortuously long, drawn out 8 minutes, 46 seconds, during which three other police stood around, onlookers pleaded for mercy, and the whole thing captured on video shared over social media. So while there were other unprovoked killings – Breonna Taylor, shot in her own apartment in the dead of night after police invaded with a no-knock warrant – this one was undeniable in demonstrating the ingrained culture that dehumanizes in order for such violence to occur, and the smug security of police, given unparalleled power of a gun and a badge, that they would not be held accountable.
Enough is enough, protesters by the tens of thousands in hundreds of cities throughout the country and the world, chant, even putting their own lives at risk, not just from the baton-wielding, tear-gas throwing, flashbang grenade hurling, rubber-bullet firing police dressed as an invading army, but from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The protests have come to suburbia and our home town as well – most affectingly, one this weekend organized by Great Neck high school students which drew well over 500 people to Firefighters Park in Great Neck Plaza. (They withstood accusations on Facebook they were terrorists who had collected stones to throw at police. Meanwhile, county police closed off the main street to traffic so they could march a mile to the Village Green, and walked along side.)
They decried the structural racism at the heart of a police culture that has its origins in catching slaves, then, morphed into an enforcement mechanism for White Supremacy, along with so many other structural inequities that, by design, have kept African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities unequal in society.
While the elements of police brutality and criminal injustice are well known, they are kept in force year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation by supremely politically powerful police unions.
Indeed, the most dramatic “reform” is to completely rebuild police departments – there are 16,000 of them. Some police departments have actually done this – Camden, NJ, for example – and it may be the only way to really root out the structural inequities, bias. Now Minneapolis’ city council has voted to disband its $193 million police department. What that actually means is that, like Camden, it intends to rebuild it, in order to make it functional and appropriate in a country that supposedly is based on principles of “equal justice for all.”
They will likely scrutinize how police officers are recruited, hired, know if there is a record of police brutality (like Timothy Loehmann who murdered 12-year old Tamir Rice). How are officers trained and what they understand their “mission” to be? One trendy training program (as John Oliver disclosed on “Last Week Tonight”) is in the “art” of “Killology” where officers are instructed that if they are not predators prepared to kill, they have no business being police.
Not only are the problems well known, but the solutions have been methodically investigated, analyzed, quantified and put in the form of recommendations – by the Obama Administration after the Ferguson, Missouri, riots that followed Michael Brown’s unprovoked murder by police. The task force developed a template for 21st Century Policing, including ending militarizing police. His Department of Justice under Eric Holder obtained consent decrees from the most vile police forces. But, like the template to address a global pandemic handed to the Trump Administration, it was immediately discarded, and the consent decrees withdrawn.
But George Floyd has created the rarest opportunity for reform. With breathtaking speed for New York or any state government, major measures for a “Say Their Name” police reform agenda have already passed the Legislature: Allow for transparency of prior disciplinary records by reforming 50-a; ban chokeholds; prosecute for making a false race-based 911 report; and designating the Attorney General as an independent prosecutor in cases involving death of unarmed civilian by law enforcement.
Cuomo wants to go further to “seize the momentum,” correctly seeing this time as transformational to “reinvent” policing..
“This is a long time coming,” Cuomo said. “It is time to reimagine and reinvent policing for 2020…Police are public servants for that community – if the community doesn’t trust, doesn’t respect police, police can’t do their job.”
Democrats in Congress have also seized on this transformational moment as well, introducing “Justice in Policing Act” which at the federal level would ban chokeholds; challenge “qualified immunity”; prohibit no-knock warrants; counter the trend toward militarization of police; require body and dashboard cameras; require independent prosecutors in cases of police brutality; establish a national database to track police misconduct; and (finally) make lynching a federal hate crime.
Others want more. There are calls to “defund police” – which like “They’re coming for your guns” and “Open Borders!” is a catchy slogan that fits on a sign that has been deliberately distorted by Trump and the Republicans and used to incite fear among (white suburban) voters who are being told their neighborhoods will be overrun by criminals, gangs and rapists.
What “defund police” means is reassessing what functions the police do. Do we want protectors or warriors? Are police the best ones to address situations involving mental health, drug overdoses, domestic violence or school discipline? More accurately, people are calling for “divest-reinvest”: take that money and invest in social workers, mental health professionals, and guidance counselors that police, themselves, have said they are not equipped to deal with.
And it means investing in community programs that in themselves reduce crime. That’s what Cuomo is proposing in a Justice Agenda to root out the causes of criminal injustice, all on view in conjunction with the coronavirus epidemic and its disproportionate impact on communities of color: it goes to addressing the disparities in education, housing, health care, poverty.
“This is not just a moment for political protest,” Governor Cuomo said. “It’s not just a moment to express outrage. It’s a moment to do something about it, and to make real reform and real change. That’s the goal of the moment. I understand the emotion. I want people to know how upset I am. Good. Second step, what do we do about it? And let’s get it done here in the State of New York.
“When we talk about a Justice Agenda, we want to fight the systemic racism, inequality and injustice in our society. That is what the protesters are saying and I stand with the protesters in saying that because it’s very true. But in this moment of change, let’s make it real change and let’s get to the root of the issue. You want to talk about injustice and inequality in America. Well then it has to start with our education system. We do not educate all children the same. ‘Opportunity for all.’ No, opportunity for some, opportunity for people who grow up in a rich school district and a rich family with high property taxes and they go to great schools, but not for the children who grow up in poorer communities, who go to inferior schools. That is the reality today. That is the truth. I’m saying that as Governor of New York not as a protester on a street corner. It is a fact. Even in this state, we spent $36,000 per year, per student, in a wealthy school district, $13,000 per year in a poorer school district. How do you rationalize that? You can’t and say this is a system that provides equal opportunity for all.
“How do you still have children living in poverty? With all this wealth, with all this abundance, how do you tolerate a situation where some children to no fault of their own, you can’t blame them, they were born into one circumstance and they are living in poverty? You can’t justify it. The number of homeless, lack of affordable housing, you have a federal government that just went out of the housing business. I was the former housing secretary, worked in housing all my life. Housing was a federal responsibility, not state, not local. 1949 Housing Act, “for this nation, safe, clean, decent housing for all Americans.” 1949, it’s 2020, what are we doing? There’s no section eight, no section eight project base, no more public housing, and then we wonder why there is an affordable housing shortage.
“And yes, criminal justice reform, why do we lock up more people than any industrialized nation on the globe? That is a sign of success? …Why do we have racial disparity in the criminal justice system? How do you rationalize it? Unless it goes back to the other systemic injustices and inequality, if a person grows up in poverty, if a person doesn’t have education, if a person doesn’t have access to opportunity, then you see the result in the criminal justice system. This is how you get at injustice and inequality, and you can’t do it piecemeal, either attack it fully or you will never defeat it. That is the justice agenda. And this has to be done on the federal level and it should be done on the federal level because this is not a New York or California or Florida issue. It is an American issue. And you are in the middle of election season, stand up and say, ‘Here is my election reform agenda. You want my support and my vote? Here is my agenda. You are running for Congress, you’re running for Senate, or whatever you’re running for, you want my support? Here is my agenda.’ That is my opinion,” Cuomo said.
But none of this will happen as long as Trump and the Republicans are in power.
It took more than 2 ½ hours before all the marchers standing against Anti-Semitism, racism and bigotry got across the Brooklyn Bridge from Foley Square – an estimated 25,000 marching behind Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, and a slew of state and local leaders, marching in solidarity with Michael Miller, Executive VP & CEO of Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA Federation of NY, the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, NY Board of Rabbis, and faith leaders across Brooklyn Bridge, with a singular message: “No Fear, No Hate”.
political leaders did not just come to give speeches and march, but to take
Schumer said Congress would quadruple federal funding to $360 million to help
places of worship increase security – video cameras, doors, hired guards, and
$100 million to coordinate with local police to act more effectively to
prosecute hate crimes.
has a culture of diversity and tolerance. Anti-Semitism and bigotry is a
national crisis…We will not stand for bigotry of any type,” Schumer said. “We
will not only speak and march, but act.”
Cuomo also announced $45 million in additional funding to protect New York’s
religious-based institutions, including parochial and private schools and
cultural centers. He said that there would be increased state police patrols in
Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state, and has created a new state
police tip line for people to report incidents (1-877-NO-HATE-NY). Also, Cuomo
said he would introduce legislation to elevate hate crimes to the level of
domestic terrorism, and prosecuted as such.
Funding is being made
available through Requests for Applications under New York’s
Securing Communities Against Hate Crimes Grant Program. Created by
Governor Cuomo in 2017, the program provides funding to strengthen security
measures and prevent hate crimes against non-profit day care centers, community
centers, cultural museums, day camps andnon-public schools,which
may be vulnerable because of their ideology, beliefs or mission. Since the
program’s inception, more than 500 such projects have been supported by $25
million in state funding. The Governor also announced the creation of a
new tip line that New Yorkers should call if they experience bias or
discrimination – 1-877-NO-HATE-NY. Additionally, the Governor announced
that State Police will continue increased patrols and security in Orthodox
Jewish neighborhoods across the state.
“The recent rash of anti-Semitic and other hate-fueled
attacks in New York and across the nation are understandably causing anxiety,
but we will not be intimidated,” Governor Cuomo said.”In New York we stand up to
those who try to sow division and fear, and this new funding
will provide religious and cultural institutions the support they need to help
protect themselves and keep people safe. We will not let the cancer of hate and intolerance weaken us – we
will continue to stand up and denounce it every time it rears its ugly
Hate crime statistics
indicate a surge of anti-Semitism and hate crimes against the Jewish community,
nationally and in New York. Nearly half of all hate crimes in New York over the
last several years have been against the Jewish community. Last year, more than
half the hate crimes recorded in New York City, 229 (a modern city record, up
from 185 in 2018) were recorded against Jews – and these statistics do not
include hate crimes directed at Jews outside the five-boroughs, such as the the
slashing of five people attending a Chanukah service in a rabbi’s home in
Monsey, NY. The October 27, 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in
Pittsburgh and the recent terror attack at a kosher market in Jersey City, New
Jersey, in which a local Yeshiva and Catholic school faced gunfire, underscore
the need to protect Jewish institutions from violent extremism and
The grants, which
will be directed by the New York State Division of the Budget,
provide up to $50,000 in funding for additional security training, cameras,
door-hardening, improved lighting, state-of-the-art technology and other
related security upgrades at each eligible facility. Organizations that operate
more than one facility have the opportunity to submit up
to five applications.
The program provides funding to strengthen security measures
and prevent hate crimes against non-profit day care centers, community centers,
cultural museums, day camps andnon-public schools,which
may be vulnerable because of their ideology, beliefs or mission. Since the
program’s inception, in 2017, more than 500 such projects have been supported
by $25 million in state funding.
The Hate Crimes Task Force was created last year to mitigate recent incidents of bias-motivated threats, harassment and violence in New York. As part of the Task Force, New York State Police, the Division of Human Rights and the Division of Criminal Justice Services engage local stakeholders and law enforcement agencies, and work to identify and investigate hate-motivated crimes and bias-related trends, community vulnerabilities and discriminatory practices.
The Governor also announced the creation of a new tip
line that New Yorkers should call if they experience bias or discrimination –
1-877-NO-HATE-NY. Additionally, the Governor announced that State Police
will continue increased patrols and security in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods
across the state.
“I’m heartened to see this amazing show
of support and solidarity,” the Governor said at a press conference before the
march. “Literally over 10,000 people have shown up to show support and love for
the Jewish community. And that’s New York at her best. And it’s fitting.
Because what has happened in Brooklyn, what has happened in Monsey, New York
was an attack on every New Yorker. And every New Yorker has felt the pain.
Discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism is repugnant to every value that every
New Yorker’s holds dear. And it’s repugnant to every value that this country
represents. Racism and anti-Semitism is anti-American and we have to remember
“It is ignorant of our history because to know the history of the Jewish community is to love and appreciate the Jewish community because New York would not be New Yorker without the Jewish community. It is intolerant of who we are as a people. It’s intolerant of our diversity and our humanity and it is also illegal. And while we’re here today in the spirit of solidarity and love, government must do more than just offer thoughts and prayers, government must act. This is illegal and it is government’s responsibility to protect the people of the State of New York and the State government will be doing just that. As soon as the Legislature comes back I’m going to propose a new law for the State of New York that calls this hate what it is – it is domestic terrorism. These are terrorists and they should be punished as such. We’re going to increase the State Police force and the Hate Crimes Task Force so we have more State Police in vulnerable communities.
“We are going to work with schools all across the state to make sure our young people are educated on our history and our diversity and the strength of that diversity. We’ll be working with faith leaders, because from every pulpit, every podium to every congregation in this state, we have to be condemning these acts.
“And today the state is going to make an additional $45 million available to non-public schools and religious institutions for security. We also ask every New Yorker to be involved in this crusade today. And if any New Yorker has any information about a possible attack or an attack that has happened, we ask them to be active and to help us thwart these attacks. We have a 1-800 number – 1-877-NO-HATE-NY. If you have any information, we have that tip line open, let’s all stand together and united.
“These acts of hate may not have started in New York – we’ve seen them across the nation – but these acts of hate must stop and end in the State of New York, and that’s New York at her best. Everyone today says the same thing: No hate in our state, period. We won’t tolerate it, we condemn it, we stand united against it and we are going to act against it. Let’s march.”
Here are more photo highlights from the Solidarity March:
With increasing violence against Jewish people, including the massacres at a New Jersey kosher grocery, in California and Pittsburgh, desecrations at Holocaust Memorial Center on Long Island, and attacks on Jews in New York City and upstate New York, as Jews around the world celebrate Chanukah and the historic victory over religious repression, Vice President Joe Biden, a candidate for President, issued a statement decrying the rise of Anti-Semitism and reflecting on “the battle for the soul of this nation.” This is from the Biden campaign:
Statement from Vice President Joe Biden on the Rise of
Anti-Semitism and the Battle for the Soul of This Nation
Across America, and around the globe, the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism is shredding the fabric of our communities, tearing apart the lives of innocent people and their families, and eroding the soul of our nation.
This tide of hatred fueled last week’s horrific act of domestic terrorism that took the lives of a police officer and three people at JC Kosher Supermarket in New Jersey. It’s the same hatred that unleashed the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history last year at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. That led a gunman armed with an AR-15 style gun to storm the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in California earlier this year on the last day of Passover.
We have to fight the pernicious and persistent evil of anti-Semitism at every level of our society — starting with our political leaders. My dear friend, the late Tom Lantos, had a saying that I’ve quoted frequently. He said, “The veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.” That means we have to stand up and speak out every time anti-Semitism rears its head, because silence can all too quickly become complicity.
Yet, after Charlottesville, instead of condemning a naked display of hatred, Trump assigned a moral equivalence between those streaming through the night with torches, chanting anti-Semitic bile — and the courageous neighbors and activists who stood against them. He gave license and safe harbor to white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and the KKK.
We have all seen what has followed. There’s a short line from those white supremacists in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us,” to the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, saying Jews “were committing genocide to his people.”
Since he took office, Trump has presided over a historic increase in hate crimes and biased-incidents targeting people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ Americans, and people of Jewish faith. Active hate groups grew to 1,020 in the U.S. last year, with white nationalists leaping almost 50%, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. FBI data shows that most of our religion-based hate crimes are aimed at Jews. At the end of 2017, Trump’s first year in office, anti-Semitic incidents increased nearly 60%, the largest one-year increase since the Anti-Defamation League started keeping records 40 years ago.
As I said after Charlottesville, we are in a battle for the soul of this nation. And, it’s why I am running for president.
Trump announced his first campaign by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists.” He called a major American city a “disgusting rat-and rodent-infested mess” that “no human being” would choose to live in. He tried to ban a whole religion from entering our country. He has repeated anti-Semitic tropes and sought to turn U.S. support for Israel into a political football.
In both clear language and cynical code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy and anti-Semitism in this nation. The Jewish people know better than anyone, that any action designed to marginalize one ethnic or religious group imperils us all.
Trump’s actions have only worsened the crisis: retweeting white nationalist postings. Cutting funding for Obama-Biden initiatives put in place to counter violent domestic extremism.
As I said earlier this year, we must enact a federal domestic terrorism law. We have to make the same commitment to rooting out domestic terrorism as we’ve made to stopping it internationally. And, we can do it without infringing on people’s free speech and without trampling civil liberties.
We must appoint leadership at the U.S. Department of Justice who will prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes – making clear that there is no place for such vitriol in this country.
We must defeat the National Rifle Association to get weapons of war off our streets and out of dangerous hands. I know we can because I’ve done it before – twice. As president, I’ll do it again. I’ll ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, require background checks for all gun sales, and close the hate crime loophole by enacting legislation to get guns out of dangerous hands of those convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime.
And, we have to condemn pernicious stereotypes wherever we find them, and stand up to those who seek to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations. No nation, including Israel, is immune from legitimate criticism, but it should not be unfairly singled out.
Hate didn’t begin with Donald Trump, and it won’t end with him. But this is a defining moment in our nation’s history. A moment where we are once again called to fight against the same forces of hate and intolerance that we’ve battled throughout our history. Yet it’s in these times, when what’s at stake matters the most, that we decide who we are, and maybe more importantly, who we want to be.
I am running for president because I believe in the best of America. I believe in our values of equality, giving everyone a fair shot, and treating everyone with dignity and respect. We are a country that gives to hate no safe harbor. We lead by the power of our example, not just the example of our power. So let us renew our commitment to our better angels and do what this president cannot: Stand together against hate, and stand up for what, at our best, this nation believes.
They came together in celebration, not anger or fear. The common thread among the 150,000 who marched, coming from around the world and across the country, and the estimated 2.5 million who watched along the WorldPride NYC 2019 parade route: Free to be me.
The parade, which took eight hours to complete and was
estimated to be the largest Pride event in history, was particularly poignant,
honoring the 50th anniversary since the Stonewall Uprising, which
are considered the trigger to the modern LGBTQ movement.
Jim Foray, among the Grand Marshals at the parade, was there
that night. He was living just a block away and recalled the Stonewall as a
“sleazy bar where we were grateful and exploited.” The bar, reputedly owned by
the Mafia, was regularly raided by the police.
What a difference 50 years has made, noted Julian Sanjivan,
NYC Pride March Director. “They had no way of knowing what the next 50 years
would bring, no way to know they were starting a global movement, changing
hearts and minds everywhere.” And who could have expected an openly gay and
married man, a mayor from South Bend, Indiana, Peter Buttigieg, running for
Fear and loathing has given way to pride and joy.
Five Grand Marshals lead both the 50th NYC Pride March: the cast of POSE, represented by Dominique Jackson (Elektra), Indya Moore (Angel), and MJ Rodriguez (Blanca); Phyll Opoku-Gyimah; Gay Liberation Front; The Trevor Project and Monica Helms.
Phyll Opoku-Gyimah is the nucleus of the award-winning
celebration and protest that is UK Black Pride. Widely known as Lady Phyll –
partly due to her decision to reject an MBE in the New Year’s Honours’ list, to
protest Britain’s role in formulating anti-LGBTQ+ penal codes across its empire
– she is a senior official at the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) trade
union as the Head of Equality and Learning. She’s a community builder and
organizer; a Kaleidoscope Trust Trustee; an Albert Kennedy Trust patron; Diva
Magazine columnist, and public speaker focusing on race, gender, sexuality and
Gay Liberation Front was the very first LGBTQ activist
organization formed after the Stonewall Rebellion. The courageous members of
GLF fought to give political shape and direction to a whole new generation of
LGBTQ militancy that spread with unprecedented vigor and impact across the
nation and the world.
The Trevor Project is the world’s largest suicide prevention
and crisis intervention organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) young people. The organization works to save
young lives by providing support through free and confidential programs,
including TrevorLifeline, TrevorText, and TrevorChat. They also run
TrevorSpace, the world’s largest safe space social networking site for LGBTQ
youth, and operate innovative education, research, and advocacy programs.
Monica Helms is a transgender activist, author, and veteran
of the United States Navy, having served on two submarines. She is also the
creator of the Transgender Pride Flag, in 1999, and subsequently donated the
original flag to the Smithsonian Institution in 2014.
It was indeed a demonstration of world pride – there were
marchers from Copenhagen, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Portugal,
Australia, Holland, and so many other places.
American cities and states were represented as well, from
coast to coast and in between – from Palm Beach and Orlando to Palm Springs,
San Francisco and Venice (California), Austin to Washington DC, Brooklyn,
Boston, even Native American tribes.
Here are highlights from the WorldPride NYC 2019:
A clear sign of the changing times was the outpouring of
elected and government officials who joined the march. New York State Governor
Andrew Cuomo used the occasion to sign into law legislation banning the gay
and trans panic legal defense, a key component of his 2019 Justice
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.”