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.
I thought it was impressive when a couple of dozen elected officials from state, county and local government came to a Shabbat service at Temple Beth-el of Great Neck to show support for the Jewish community after horrific attacks at a Rabbi’s home in Monsey and a massacre at Jersey City kosher grocery. I was moved by the outpouring of 25,000 mostly Jewish (surprisingly few Orthodox) who marched as a demonstration of Jewish pride and resolution over the Brooklyn Bridge, led by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Governor Cuomo and Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, and faith leaders. But what was truly awesome were the 2500 Long Islanders who marched in a show of solidarity to fight anti-Semitism and hate crimes at the county seat in Mineola, representing just about every aspect, community and culture across the length and breadth of Long Island. Marchers came from across the Island, representing more than 125 religious and community groups.
Nassau County Executive
Laura Curran organized the march and rally in solidarity with the Jewish
community and against Anti-Semitism in response to horrific attacks in Brookyn,
Monsey, and Jersey City, as well as incidents of Anti-Semitic graffiti at the Holocaust Memorial and
Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove. In December, Nassau and Suffolk Counties formed a bi-county coalition that
will identify and develop a plan of action to combat and report acts of hate
and bias incidents on Long Island. In conjunction with a number of
organizations, today’s march marked one of the task force’s inaugural
“We organized this march
to send a clear message in one voice: Long Islanders of all faiths and
backgrounds stand united with our Jewish community and against Anti-Semitism,”
said Nassau County Executive Laura
As Assemblyman Charles Lavine read off
the names of participating groups, closing out nearly two hours of speeches
(notably very short speeches, that’s how many speakers there were) included on
the list: Turkish, Chinese, Indian…
Many of the speakers spoke of bigotry
and anti-Semitism as being anathema to American values. But of course,
Americans have a Pollyannish notion of this country’s “tolerance,”
“acceptance.” The strain of bigotry, hatred and particularly anti-Semitism has
always been here, even during World War II. It was muted after the Holocaust,
after the US soldiers penetrated the concentration camps and saw, for the first
time, that it was not “propaganda” that millions and millions were caged for
extermination, that the Final Solution was real. But it was anti-Semitism that
kept America from accepting refugees before, during and after the Holocaust,
and no coincidence that the Palmer raids of the 1920s targeted Jewish labor
leaders and the McCarthy blacklist consisted mainly of Jewish writers and
The “popular” view is that anti-Semitism
is back on the rise because working people feel somehow disadvantaged, though
the connection eludes me. But here’s what I don’t get: in Nazi Germany, Jews
were a convenient scapegoat for the genuine suffering of Germans caught in a
Great Depression. That is not the case here in the United States. In fact, we
are constantly told that the economy is the strongest in history, unemployment
is at a 50-year low.
The rise in anti-Semitism – not just
vandalism and nasty remarks but physical violence like the massacres at the
Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg, a synagogue in Poway, California, in
Jersey City and the attack at a rabbi’s home in Monsey during a Chanukah
celebration, has been quite astonishing. Over 2,000 hate crimes against Jews in
2019. In New York City, according to the New York Police Department, hate
crimes against all other groups (Asian, Catholic, Hispanic, Black, Arab, Muslim,
LBGTQ) totaled 206; the number directed against Jews, just in the five
Speakers referred to the fear that Jews now
feel in their own neighborhood, community, college campus. Many
Holocaust survivors are being wracked with renewed PTSD, their terrors
Indeed, a study by the American Jewish
Committee in October found that 31% of Jews hide the fact they are Jewish; 25
percent avoid certain places, events, situations out of concern for their
safety. In America? “We must be proud
and not shy away,” said Eric Post, AJC NY Associate Director.
“Anti-Semitism is not solely a Jewish problem. It’s an American problem. If not
eradicated, it will corrode our fabric.”
There is a difference in today’s
anti-Semitism, in that individuals armed with social media or semi-automatic
weapons can do horrific damage that before would have required some
organization or government sanction. And even if the defense is some sort of
mental illness, as in the Monsey case, the question is why the voices compel them to strike out
against Jews, what is it in the culture that directs hatred in that way?
But such hate turns out not even to be
solely “organic” or a representation of “grassroots” disaffection. Foreign
governments, particularly Russia, as well as domestic political factions that
are using anti-Semitism, racism and fomenting hate in order to sow division,
disrupt and destabilize our society to tilt elections and take power – after
all, it worked so well during the 2016 campaign.
five of our region’s Congressional representatives – Suozzi, King, Rice, Meeks and Zeldin – are requesting FBI
Director Christopher Wray, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Homeland Security acting
Secretary Chad Wolf and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper conduct an investigation into
potential campaigns sponsored by foreign adversaries to cause civil unrest on
“Whether anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, race
based or some other form of hate, internal divisions provide an opportunity for
our adversaries to exploit and further divide our nation,” the letter states.
“We must work together to combat those that exploit ignorance to sow division for
their strategic interest.”
The letter also cites a recent FBI study
that found the rate of hate crimes increased by 17 percent from 2016 to 2017
but the rate of anti-Semitic crimes increased by 37 percent in 2017 and attacks
motivated by racial or ethnical prejudice doubled. The timing since Trump’s
ascendancy is not coincidence; Trump has curried the support of racists and
bigots and basically green-lighted their activities. No longer is racism and
bigotry kept under wraps or in shadow; with Trump it is out in the open.
But to the extent America is a melting
pot, that melting pot is the New York metropolitan region – the city and suburbs,
especially Long Island. Which is why the dramatic escalation in anti-Semitic
hate crimes our area is all the more shocking and terrifying.
Rabbi Meir Feldman, who gave the sermon
at Temple Beth-el on that Friday night, had only 72 hours before been at Yad
Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem.
“Our question tonight is not why there
is anti-Semitism. It is simpler: what is this crazy evil thing, this abnormal
force of anti-Semitism?” He shows a cartoon that is displayed at the memorial,
an image of a parasite, an insect meant to be walked on but sits on top of the
world, in its right eye, a symbol of money, in its left eye a hammer and
sickle, the symbols of Capitalist and the communist seemingly
contradictory. That is anti-Semitism –
hated by both ends, a convenient scapegoat for anybody’s discontent and any
“Anti-Semitism is an impossible series
of contradictions,” he says. “What’s our response? How do we confront and fight
this scourge of contradictions?” He says with honesty, unity, solidarity and
“We must call out Anti-Semitism
wherever, whenever, reveal it for what it is: insane contradictions. Identify
the ideological source – right, left, White Nationalist, Black Nationalist.”
But this is the most
significant difference between Germany in the 1930s (where Jews had been living
for 1000 years) and now: the vast majority of elected officials are standing up
and calling out anti-Semitism, initiating new laws and calling for police enforcement,
as they did on Friday night at Temple Beth-el, in the March Against Hate in New
York last week, and in this weekend’s extraordinary march and rally on the
steps of the Theodore Roosevelt County Building.
it isn’t just speeches and marches, but actions. Senator Charles Schumer is
advocating $360 million more in spending to secure houses of worship and
federal assistance to localities to prosecute hate crimes; 298 Representatives
have signed on to sponsor the Never Again Education Act to authorize the Secretary of Education
to award grants to eligible entities to carry out educational programs about
the Holocaust. (It was introduced in the House in January 2019.)
Congressman Tom Suozzi attributed the
rise in anti-Semitism to social media which makes it easy to spread and magnify
hate, some of it promulgated by foreign adversaries trying to stir up civil
unrest. It works because “there is too much ignorance. How many deny the
Holocaust or don’t know about it? That is a recipe for disaster.” The US
soldiers, he said, who were just two or three months away from liberating the
concentration camps were still debating if the Holocaust was real or propaganda.
“We must educate.”
The state and county are stepping up
prosecution of hate crimes, as well. Governor Cuomo is proposing a domestic terrorism law that encompasses
hate crimes, and is seeking resources and security funding for law enforcement
and faith based institutions.
State Senator Anna
Kaplan has introduced four bills aimed at combating the rising tide of
anti-Semitism and hate in New York State, through education, awareness, and a
stronger hate crimes statute to ensure prosecutors have the tools necessary to
hold accountable those committing anti-Semitic and hate motivated crimes.
“As a Jewish
refugee who came to this country fleeing anti-Semitic violence in my homeland,
my heart aches over the out-of-control spree of anti-Semitic violence taking
place here in New York. I’ve been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with New
Yorkers of all faiths and backgrounds as we have marched in the streets and
loudly proclaimed that we will not allow anti-Semitism and hatred to take hold
in New York, and today, I’m proud to announce that I am taking concrete steps
to address this crisis from every direction.”
the first Persian-American elected State Senator: “We speak with one voice. We
are never going to accept anti-Semitism in our community or anywhere. Anti-Semitism
has been a plague on society for thousands of years. We have to be the
generation that stands up and takes decisive action.”
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline
Singas said, “We see thousands of you shoulder to shoulder, different colors,
creeds, faiths, standing with neighbors, community to say ‘Enough.’ Hate is
offensive to a nation born of tolerance, and it is criminal. We will work hard
to arrest, prosecute, hold offenders accountable. “ She has created a hate
crimes bureau. ‘We hope one day soon we won’t need it. We say no to
anti-Semitism, racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran,
who organized the massive display, said, “Hate has no place on our beautiful
island. We have got your back,” and introduced five Holocaust survivors.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone:
“this is the one nation on earth where every form of humanity is a citizen…
January 27 is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.
That date is a reminder, we must stand up, any time we see bias or hate in
words or actions.”
Senator Schumer, relating how his great
grandmother, along with 30 other
relatives aged 3 months to 85 years old, were machine gunned by Nazis in
Ukraine, said, “Unfortunately people there didn’t speak up.”
New York State Attorney General Letitia James said, “As an African American, I know hate, know discrimination. An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us… During the civil rights movement, it was Jews who referred to blacks by their last name, not their first; who let Blacks enter the front door, not the back door, Jewish people who died for my people. Not just black blood but Jewish blood [was shed for civil rights]. Hate won’t be tolerated on Long Island or anywhere in the State.”
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli
said it is hard to believe how the numbers of anti-Semitic incidents, of hate,
violence are going up in the New York metro area. “You being here show that we
will not accept this as the new normal. What we take from today, in our homes,
workplaces, houses of worship, neighborhoods, that’s where we must fight hate.”
Everyone, he said, should see the “Auschwitz: Not Long Ago, Not Far Away”
exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (extended until August 30, 2020). “Eli
Wiesel warned of the great peril of indifference in the face of hate.”
Dr. Isma Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, which turned out in force for the march, said, ‘What I see today is a strong Long Island. As a Muslim, our moral obligation to stand by humanity suffering in pain, prosecution of hatred, discrimination. We stand with our Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity… Nassau is making history by this strong statement of solidarity of diverse communities.”
Kevin Thomas, the first Indian-American
elected State Senator, holding his 13-month old daughter: “My community stands
with the Jewish community” adding, we need to teach our children when they are
Assemblyman Tony D’Urso’s family is a
model of the courage that it takes. When he was just a boy, Nazis took over his
village in Italy. His father protected the only two Jewish families who lived
in the village, hiding them in the mountains when others would have happily
given them up for a little money or food.
Probably most touching was Linda Beigel
Schulman, whose son Scott was a teacher-coach when he was murdered in
the massacre at Parkland school in 2018. She noted that the target of his
killer was a history class teaching about the Holocaust.
“We held a celebration of his life at
the temple where Scott was bar mitzvahed. The rabbi asked if I wanted any
security. I said ‘Why?’ Six days later, a gunman massacred Jews at the Tree of
Life synagogue, simply because they were Jewish.”
Schulman’s father was a Holocaust
survivor and when she taught in Germany 1977-9, “I feared telling people I was
a Jew. But living in Louisiana, a woman asked me, ‘where do you hide your
horns.’ Her husband attended NYU; his roommate moved out when he discovered he
“I know why I am here today, why we all
must be here, to have our voices heard. Over 2,000 anti-Semitic incidents in
2019 – gestures, name-calling, painting swastikas, toppling headstones,
physical attacks and murder, merely because a person is Jewish or believed to
be. Anti-Semitism is like a virus infecting, sometimes killing its host. The
body tries to fight it off, but it lies dormant, and rears up again. If we
allow anti-Semtiism to take hold in the United States, it will destroy the
fiber that holds us together. E Plubus Unum – out of many, one. Without that
motto is tribalism and ‘me first’.
“We need to become the best society we
can. We the people are the antidote. It
doesn’t matter if Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh or no religion, Asian
American, Hispanic, Italian, African American, whether citizen or immigrant, if
you came by airplane, ship or on foot. We are the antidote to wipe out
anti-Semitism once and for all. Our voices must be heard. Silence only brings
acceptance and gives anti-Semitism the fuel it needs to spread.”
Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who served
as the emcee for the event, said, “For generations, tragedy after tragedy, Jews
have been saying “Am Yisrael Chai” – the people of Israel live. It is time for
us all Americans to stand together, united to say, Am America Chai. These are
Here is a list of the elected officials,
community and faith leaders who participated in Long Island’s march against
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County
Executive Steve Bellone
Chuck Schumer, Senator
Letitia James, State Attorney General
Tom Suozzi, Congressman
Peter King, Congressman
Kathleen Rice, Congresswoman
Tom Di Napoli, State Comptroller
Todd Kaminsky, State Senator
Kevin Thomas, State Senator
Anna Kaplan, State Senator
Jim Gaughran, State Senator
John Brooks, State Senator
Chuck Lavine, Assemblyman
Judy Griffin, Assemblywoman
Mike LiPetri, Assemblyman
Michelle Solages, Assemblywoman
Madeline Singas, NC Distirct Attorney
Jack Schnirman, NC Comptroller
Don Clavin, Town of Hempstead Supervisor
Anthony D’Esposito, TOH Councilman
Charles Berman, Town of North Hempstead Tax Reciever
Wayne Wink, ToNH
Peter Zuckerman, ToNH Councilman
Veronica Lurvey, ToNH
Viviana Russell, ToNH Councilwoman
Debra Mule, County Legislator
William Gaylor, County Legislator
Thomas Mckevitt, County Legislator
Delia Deriggi-Whitton, County
Ellen Birnbaum, County Legislator
Richard Nicolello, President Officer of County
vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has
produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. Senator Elizabeth
Warren released her plan to protect communities from gun violence. This is from
the Warren2020 campaign (Read it here).
“The conversation about
gun violence in America is shifting — but not just because we’ve seen a spike
in violence fueled by the NRA and the Trump administration’s dangerous policies
and extremist rhetoric. It’s also because of the tireless work of activists,
organizers, and community leaders who have been fighting for reform at the
state and local level.
“If you need proof that the majority
of Americans support common sense gun reform, look at what’s happening in state
legislatures and city councils across the country. Moms, students, and faith
leaders have been packing hearing rooms and taking back spaces formerly reserved
for NRA lobbyists. Survivors of mass shootings are doing the critical work of
turning our attention to the daily gun violence in cities that doesn’t make
“And it’s working. States that pass
expanded background checks see lower rates of gun-related deaths and gun
trafficking. States that disarm domestic abusers see lower rates of intimate
partner gun violence. States with extreme risk laws have been successful in
reducing gun suicides and have used them to prevent potential mass shootings.
Community-based violence intervention programs are popping up in cities across
“Together, we can build on this
momentum. We can build a grassroots movement to take back the Senate, eliminate
the filibuster, and pass federal gun safety legislation that will save lives.
And from the White House, I’ll make sure that the NRA and their cronies are
held accountable with executive action. If we turn our heartbreak and our anger
into action, I know we can take the power from the NRA and the lawmakers in
their pockets and return it to the people.”
Charlestown, MA – Prior to her appearance at the Everytown presidential forum,
Elizabeth Warren released her plan to confront gun violence in America.
Yesterday, she called on Walmart to stop selling
guns — one of the largest gun retailers in the world.
Elizabeth will set a goal of reducing
gun deaths in this country by 80%, starting with an ambitious set of executive
actions she will take as president. In order to break the hold of the NRA and
the gun lobby, she will pass her sweeping anti-corruption legislation and
eliminate the filibuster to pass gun legislation in her first 100 days. She
supports federal licensing, universal background checks, a military-style
assault weapon ban, higher taxes on guns and ammunition, and closing the
loopholes to make it harder for someone violent to get a gun.
We know that Black and Latinx
Americans have borne the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country.
Instead of focusing solely on law enforcement and incarceration, Elizabeth will
invest in interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs by
piloting evidence-based community violence intervention programs at scale.
She will call on Congress to repeal
the liability shield that protects the industry – and then go further, by
establishing a federal private right of action to allow survivors of gun
violence to get their day in court. Her plan also includes $100 million
annually for gun safety research, and commits to study the reforms we enact to
see what’s working, and send Congress updated reform proposals on an annual
Faced with a complex and entrenched
public health crisis, made worse by the ongoing inability of a corrupt
government to do anything about it, it’s easy to despair. But we are not
incapable of solving big problems. We’ve done it before.
In 1965, more than five people died in
automobile accidents for every 100 million miles traveled. It was a massive
crisis. As a nation, we decided to do better. Some things were obvious:
seatbelts, safer windshields, and padded dashboards. Other things only became
clear over time: things like airbags and better brake systems. But we made
changes, we did what worked, and we kept at it. Over fifty years, we reduced
per-mile driving deaths by almost 80% and prevented 3.5 million automobile
deaths. And we’re still at it.
In 2017, almost 40,000 people
died from guns in the United States. My goal as President, and our goal as a
society, will be to reduce that number by 80%. We might not know how to get all
the way there yet. But we’ll start by implementing solutions that we believe
will work. We’ll continue by constantly revisiting and updating those solutions
based on new public health research. And we’ll make structural changes to end
the ability of corrupt extremists to block our government from defending the
lives of our people — starting with ending the filibuster.
Here’s what that will look like.
As president, I will immediately take
executive action to rein in an out-of-control gun industry — and to hold both
gun dealers and manufacturers accountable for the violence promoted by their
I will break the NRA’s stranglehold on
Congress by passing sweeping anti-corruption legislation and eliminating the
filibuster so that our nation can no longer be held hostage by a small group of
well-financed extremists who have already made it perfectly clear that they
will never put the safety of the American people first.
I will send Congress comprehensive gun
violence prevention legislation. I will sign it into law within my first 100
days. And we will revisit this comprehensive legislation every single year —
adding new ideas and tweaking existing ones based on new data — to continually
reduce the number of gun deaths in America.
Executive Action to Reduce
Reform advocates are engaged in a
valuable discussion about gun reforms that can be achieved by executive action.
We must pursue these solutions to the fullest extent of the law, including by
redefining anyone “engaged in the business”
of dealing in firearms to include the vast majority of gun sales outside of
family-to-family exchanges. This will extend requirements — not only for
background checks, but all federal gun rules — to cover all of those sales.
Requiring background checks. We will
bring the vast majority of private sales, including at gun shows and online,
under the existing background check umbrella.
Reporting on multiple purchases. We
will extend the existing requirement to report bulk sales to nearly all gun
sales. And I’ll extend existing reporting requirements on the mass purchase of
certain rifles from the southwestern border states to all 50 states.
Raising the minimum age. We will
expand the number of sales covered by existing age restriction provisions that
require the purchaser to be at least 18 years old, keeping guns out of the
hands of more teenagers.
My administration will use
all the authorities at the federal government’s disposal to investigate and
prosecute all those who circumvent or violate existing federal gun laws. This
Prosecuting gun traffickers. Gun
trafficking across state lines allows
guns to move from states with fewer restrictions to those with strict safety
standards, and gun trafficking across our southern border contributes to gang
violence that sends migrants fleeing north. I’ll instruct my Attorney General
to go after the interstate and transnational gun trafficking trade with all the
resources of the federal government.
Revoking licenses for gun dealers who
break the rules. Only 1% of gun dealers are responsible for 57% of guns used in
crimes. My Administration will direct the ATF to prioritize oversight of
dealers with serial compliance violations — and then use its authority to
revoke the license of dealers who repeatedly violate the rules.
Investigating the NRA and its cronies.
The NRA is accused of exploiting loopholes in federal laws governing
non-profit spending to divert member dues into lavish payments for
its board members and senior leadership. I’ll appoint an attorney general
committed to investigating these types of corrupt business practices, and the
banks and third-party vendors — like Wells Fargo — that
enabled the NRA to skirt the rules for so long.
To protect the most
vulnerable, my administration will use ATF’s existing regulatory authority to
the greatest degree possible, including by:
Protecting survivors of domestic
abuse. We will close the so-called “boyfriend loophole” by
defining intimate partner to include anyone with a domestic violence conviction
involving any form of romantic partner.
Reversing the Trump administration’s
efforts to weaken our existing gun rules. We will rescind the Trump-era rules
and policies that weaken our gun safety regime, including rules that lower the standards for
purchasing a gun, and those that make it easier to create untraceable weapons
or modify weapons in ways that circumvent the law. This includes overturning
Trump-era policies enabling
3-D printed guns, regulating 80% receivers as firearms,
and reversing the ATF ruling that allows a shooter to convert a pistol to a
short-barreled rifle using pistol braces.
Restrict the movement of guns across
our borders. We will reverse the Trump administration’s efforts to make
it easier to export U.S.-manufactured
weapons by transferring exports of semi-automatic firearms and ammunition from
the State Department to the Commerce Department, and we will prevent the import
of foreign-manufactured assault weapons into the United States.
The shooting in El Paso
also reminds us that we need to call out white nationalism for what it is:
domestic terrorism. Instead of a president who winks and nods as white
nationalism gets stronger in this country, we need a president who will use all
the tools available to prevent it. It is completely incompatible with our
American values, it is a threat to American safety and security, and a Warren
Justice Department will prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.
Structural Changes to Pass Gun Safety Legislation
The next president has a moral
obligation to use whatever executive authority she has to address the gun
crisis. But it is obvious that executive action is not enough. Durable reform
requires legislation — but right now legislation is impossible. Why? A virulent
mix of corruption and abuse of power.
Big money talks in Washington. And the
NRA represents a particularly noxious example of Washington corruption at work.
Over the last two decades, the NRA has spent over $200 million on
lobbying Congress, influencing elections, and buying off politicians — and
that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The NRA spends millions poisoning our
political discourse with hateful, conspiracy-fueled propaganda, blocking even
modest reforms supported by 90% of American voters.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook
massacre, the American people rallied for reform. President Obama suggested
several serious legislative changes. The Senate voted down an assault weapons
ban. It rejected a background checks proposal, even though 54 Senators from
both parties voted for it, because of a right-wing-filibuster. These were the
bare minimum steps we needed to take. And six years later, Congress still
hasn’t done a thing.
This pattern repeats itself throughout
our government. When money and influence can override the will of a huge
majority of Americans, that is corruption, pure and simple.
It’s time to fight back. I
have proposed the most sweeping set of anticorruption reforms since
Watergate — a set of big structural changes that includes ending lobbying as we
know it and slamming shut the revolving door. My first priority when I’m
elected President is to enact this package to get our government working for
But anti-corruption legislation alone
won’t be enough to get gun safety legislation done. After decades of inaction,
Democrats have rallied behind a number of important gun reforms. If we continue
to allow bought and paid for extremists in the Senate to thwart the will of the
people, we will never enact any of them.
Enough is enough. Lasting
gun reform requires the elimination of the filibuster.
Legislation to Reduce Gun
When I am president, I will send
Congress comprehensive legislation containing our best ideas about what will
work to reduce gun violence.
It starts by ensuring that safe, responsible ownership is the standard for
everyone who chooses to own a gun. We’ll do that by:
Creating a federal licensing system.
States with strict licensing requirements experience lower rates of gun
trafficking and violence. A license is required to drive a car, and Congress
should establish a similarly straightforward federal licensing system for the
purchase of any type of firearm or ammunition.
Requiring universal background checks.
I’ll expand background checks via executive action — but Congress should act to
permanently mandate universal background checks. And I’ll push Congress to
close the so-called “Charleston loophole”
that allows a sale to proceed after three days even if the background check is
Increasing taxes on gun manufacturers.
Since 1919, the federal
government has imposed an excise tax on manufacturers and importers of guns and
ammunition. Handguns are taxed at 10% and other guns and ammunition are taxed
at 11%. These taxes raise less in revenue than the federal excise tax on
cigarettes, domestic wine, or even airline tickets. It’s time for Congress to
raise those rates — to 30% on guns and 50% on ammunition — both to reduce new
gun and ammunition sales overall and to bring in new federal revenue that we
can use for gun violence prevention and enforcement of existing gun laws.
Establishing a real waiting period.
Waiting periods prevent impulsive gun violence, reducing gun suicides by 7–11% and gun
homicides by 17%. Over the past 5
years, a national handgun waiting period would have stopped at least 4,550 gun
deaths. The federal government should establish a one-week waiting period for
all firearm purchases.
Capping firearms purchases.
About one out of four of
firearms recovered at the scene of a crime were part of a bulk purchase.
Congress should limit the number of guns that can be purchased to one per
month, similar to a Virginia law that
successfully reduced the likelihood of Virginia-bought guns being used in
Creating a new federal anti-trafficking
law. Congress should make clear that trafficking firearms or engaging in “straw
purchases” — when an individual buys a gun on behalf of a prohibited purchaser
— are federal crimes. This would give law enforcement new tools to crack down
on gun trafficking and help keep guns out of the wrong hands.
Raising the minimum age for gun
purchases. I’ll extend existing age requirements to virtually all sales, but
federal law is currently conflicting — for example, a person must be 21 to
purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer, but only 18 to purchase a
rifle. Congress should set the federal minimum age at 21 for all gun sales.
We can also do more to
keep military-style assault weapons off our streets. We’ll do that by:
Passing a new federal assault weapons
ban. The 1994 federal assault weapons ban successfully reduced gun deaths
but was allowed to expire ten years later. Congress should again ban the future
production, sale, and importation of military-style assault weapons, and
require individuals already in possession of assault weapons to register them
under the National Firearms Act. Just as we did successfully with machine guns
after the passage of that law, we should establish a buyback program to allow
those who wish to do so to return their weapon for safe disposal, and
individuals who fail to register or return their assault weapon should face
Banning high-capacity ammunition
magazines. High-capacity magazines were used in 57% of mass shootings from 2009
to 2015, allowing the shooters to target large numbers of people without
stopping to reload. Congress should enact a federal ban on large-capacity
magazines for all firearms, setting reasonable limits on the lethality of these
Prohibiting accessories that make
weapons more deadly. Gun manufacturers sell increasingly deadly gun
accessories, including silencers, trigger cranks, and other mechanisms that
increase the rate of fire or make semi-automatic weapons fully automatic.
Congress should ban these dangerous accessories entirely.
We should also do
everything possible to keep guns out of the hands of those at highest risk of
violence. We’ll do that by:
Passing extreme risk protection laws.
Extreme risk protection orders allow families and law enforcement to petition
to temporarily restrict access to firearms for individuals in crisis or at
elevated risk of harming themselves or others. Congress should pass a federal
extreme risk law and create a grant system to incentivize states to enact their
own laws that clearly define extreme risk.
Prohibiting anyone convicted of a hate
crime from owning a gun. Too often, guns are used in acts of mass violence
intended to provoke fear in minority communities; more than 10,000 hate crimes
involve a gun every year. Any individual convicted of a hate crime should be
permanently prohibited from owning a gun, full stop.
Protecting survivors of domestic
abuse. Domestic violence and gun violence are deeply connected — in an average
month, more than 50 women are shot
and killed by an intimate partner. I’ll close the boyfriend loophole, but
Congress should make that permanent, and expand the law to include individuals
with restraining orders or who have been convicted of stalking.
Securing our schools. Parents
shouldn’t have to buy bullet-proof backpacks for
their children — guns have no place on our campuses or in our schools. Congress
should improve the Gun-Free School Zones Act to include college and university
campuses, and apply to individuals licensed by a state or locality to carry a
If we want real,
long-lasting change, we must also hold the gun industry accountable, including
online sites that look the other way when sellers abuse their platforms. We’ll
do that by:
Repealing the Protection of Lawful
Commerce in Arms Act. Nearly every other industry has civil liability as a
check on irresponsible actions, but a 2005 law insulates firearms and dealers
from civil liability when a weapon is used to commit a crime, even in cases
when dealers were shockingly irresponsible. No one should be above the law, and
that includes the gun industry. Congress should repeal this law, immediately.
Holding gun manufacturers strictly
liable for the harm they cause through a federal private right of action. Gun
manufacturers make billions in profit by knowingly selling deadly products.
Then they are let completely off the hook when people take those deadly
products and inflict harm on thousands of victims each year. State tort law
already recognizes that certain types of products and activities are so
abnormally dangerous that the entities responsible for them should be held
strictly liable when people are injured. Congress should codify that same
principle at the federal level for guns by creating a new private right of
action allowing survivors of gun violence to hold the manufacturer of the
weapon that harmed them strictly liable forcompensatory damages to
the victim or their family.
Strengthening ATF. The NRA has long
sought to hobble the ATF, lobbying against staffing and
funding increases for the agency and getting its congressional allies to
impose absurd restrictions on
its work even as the agency struggled to meet its basic responsibilities.
Congress should fully fund ATF’s regulatory and compliance programs and remove
the riders and restrictions that prevent it from doing its job.
Regulating firearms for consumer
safety. Today there are no federal safety standards for
firearms produced in the United States. We can recall unsafe products from
trampolines to children’s pajamas — but not defective guns. Congress should
repeal the provision of law that prevents the Consumer Product Safety
Commission from regulating the safety of firearms and their accessories.
Tightening oversight for gun dealers.
Today there is no requirement for federally-licensed gun shops to take even
simple steps to prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands. Congress should
pass basic safety standards for federally-licensed gun dealers, including
employee background checks, locked cabinets, and up-to-date inventories of the
weapons they have in stock.
Holding gun industry CEOs personally
accountable. I’ve proposed a lawthat would impose
criminal liability and jail time for corporate executives when their company is
found guilty of a crime or their negligence causes severe harm to American
families — and that includes gun industry CEOs.
Tragedies like the shootings we
witnessed in El Paso and Dayton capture our attention and dominate the
conversation about gun reform. But they’re just the tip of the iceberg of gun
violence in America. Everyday, we lose one hundred Americans
to gun violence, with hundreds more physically injured and countless more
mentally and emotionally traumatized. And Black and Latinx Americans have borne
the brunt of the gun violence tragedy in our country.
In the past, those statistics have been used to justify increased policing
and strict sentencing laws. Communities already traumatized by gun violence
were doubly victimized by policies that locked up their young people and threw
away the key. We’ve got a chance to show that we’ve learned from the past and
to chart a new path. It starts by acknowledging that gun violence is a public
health crisis, one that cannot be solved solely by the criminal justice system.
We can start to do that by investing
in evidence-based community violence intervention programs. Federal grant
funding today focuses significantly on law enforcement and incarceration,
rather than interventions designed to stop gun violence before it occurs. The
data in urban communities indicate that the majority of violence is perpetrated
by a small number of
offenders, and many cities have found success with programs that identify those
at highest risk of becoming the victim or perpetrator of a violent gun crime,
then employing strategies to interrupt the cycle of violence before it
escalates. Programs that engage the surrounding community, employ mediation to
prevent retaliation, build trust with law enforcement, and provide needed
long-term social services have been proven to de-escalate tensions and dramatically reduce violence.
As president, I’ll establish a grant program to invest in and pilot these types
of evidence-based intervention programs at scale.
Annual Research and Annual
Historically, when Congress works to
address big national issues, we don’t simply pass one law and cross our
fingers. Instead, we continue the research — into new policies and around the
consequences of our existing policies — and then come back on a regular basis
to update the law.
We don’t do this with guns. Not only
have we not passed meaningful legislation in almost a generation, but thanks to the NRA, for
decades Congress prohibited federal funding from being used to promote gun
safety at all, effectively freezing nearly all research on ways to reduce gun
violence. Last year, Congress finally clarified that the CDC could in fact
conduct gun violence research — but provided no funding to do so.
This ends when I’m President. My
budget will include an annual investment of $100 million for DOJ and HHS to
conduct research into the root causes of gun violence and the most effective
ways to prevent it, including by analyzing gun trafficking patterns, and
researching new technologies to improve gun safety. These funds will also be
used to study the reforms we enact — to see what’s working, what new ideas
should be added, and what existing policies should be tweaked. And every year,
I will send Congress an updated set of reforms based on this new information.
That’s how we’ll meet our goal.
The vigorous contest of Democrats seeking the 2020 presidential nomination has produced excellent policy proposals to address major issues. On August 8, immediately after the back-to-back massacres in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, US Senator Amy Klobuchar released her plan to keep communities safe from the rising tide of domestic terrorism and hate crimes. This is from the Klobuchar campaign:
“The events of the last week have served as a disturbing reminder that hate crimes and domestic terrorism are on the rise in our country,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “As President, I will end the hateful rhetoric that has become all too routine during the Trump Administration and make combating domestic terrorism and hate-motivated violence a priority. We will strengthen enforcement against those who commit acts of hate – including white nationalist hate crimes – and work with law enforcement and communities around the country to increase protections and not only combat these threats, but to address the root causes of domestic terrorism.”
Senator Klobuchar has been taking on hate crimes and combating hate since she was the Hennepin County Attorney. She has seen firsthand the terrible trauma that hate crimes can inflict – not just on individual victims, but on whole communities. And because of her work on this issue as County Attorney, she was invited to the White House when President Bill Clinton proposed the Matthew Shepard federal hate crimes bill.
As County Attorney, she vigorously prosecuted hate crimes. Her office prosecuted defendants responsible for crimes against a 14-year-old boy who was shot while riding his bike on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in a Minneapolis suburb because of the color of his skin, a Minneapolis middle school that was terrorized with burning crosses placed on its grounds, a Korean church in Minneapolis that was desecrated with spray-painted hate messages targeted against blacks, women and gays, and a Hispanic man who was assaulted and severely injured simply because he was speaking Spanish.
In the Senate, Senator Klobuchar has been a leader when it comes to combating hate. She supported the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and she has pushed to provide additional grant funding to safeguard all faith-based community centers and to protect religious institutions in the face of rising threats of violence. She has been a champion when it comes to securing federal resources to help heal distressed communities after hate crimes. She has also urged the Trump Administration to strengthen measures to combat the threat of white supremacist violence.
As President, Senator Klobuchar will take the following actions to combat hate and domestic terrorism:
Prioritize combating domestic terrorism
and empower law enforcement to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of
hate-motivated violence, including against minorities, people of color,
immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.
Direct the Department of Homeland
Security to resume its work tracking right wing extremism, including white
Require federal law enforcement agencies
to regularly assess the threat of domestic terrorism and increase training and
resources for state and local law enforcement to address it.
In addition to the gun safety proposals
the Senator has previously outlined, prevent people convicted of violent
misdemeanor hate crimes from purchasing or possessing firearms.
Strengthen enforcement of hate crimes,
including white nationalist hate crimes.
Make lynching a federal hate
Work with Communities
Require the Justice Department and the
Department of Commerce to assess how current forms of communication are being
used to spread hate and recommend ways to combat threats.
Better coordinate efforts to focus on
combating domestic terrorism not only through law enforcement but also by
addressing the root causes of domestic terrorism.
Increase protections for places of
worship and schools.
Restore the Voting Rights Act protections
for voters immediately in states with a recent history of discrimination.
Fully staff and fund the Justice
Department’s Community Relations Service, which provides communities facing
racial and other conflict with services.
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.