In 2017, the most recent year for which statistics are available, there was a 57 percent jump in anti-Semitic hate crimes, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Considering what has happened since, from incidents around the globe to the inflammatory words of a congresswoman, the trend has not abated.
Though the Five Towns has seen few of these hate-related crimes, it has the third-largest Jewish community in the metropolitan area, according to the UJA-Federation of New York. Understanding what perpetuates bigotry — hate crimes against African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims and immigrants have also spiked in recent years — and how to combat it will be addressed by Michael D. Cohen, eastern director of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a talk entitled “Anti-Semitism in the Region and What is Being Done About It,” at Temple Israel of Lawrence on Feb. 28.
The Wiesenthal Center is a global human rights organization that researches the Holocaust and hate crimes in order to confront anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism and promote human rights and dignity. It teaches people about prejudices, diversity and tolerance and stresses the importance of social activism, outreach and leadership.
“The general feeling is that in a situation where anti-Semitic and bias crimes are on the rise, it’s something that you have to be very active to combat,” said Cohen, who is also a third-term city councilman in Englewood, N.J.
Cohen cited a “myriad of factors” that contribute to increases in anti-Semitism and bias crimes, adding that peeking into the psyche of people who are prejudiced against others is not an easy thing to do because their sentiments have so many dimensions. “Unfortunately in our society, there are those who hate,” he said. “You have to fight back on all forms of hate. From the color of someone’s skin to any demographic, there is nothing stopping someone from hating the next group.”
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, the religious leader of Temple Israel, is a strong advocate of improving relations among ethnic and faith groups. Last month, the Reform synagogue hosted an event that combined International Holocaust Remembrance Day with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, and brought together leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Calling the rise in anti-Semitism in the past few years a cause for profound concern — and unprecedented since the end of the Holocaust — Rosenbaum said that people must address its root causes with education, sensitivity and awareness, and that anti-Semitism must be condemned, and never given an opportunity to persist.
“The hatred of Jews doesn’t stop there,” he said. “What affects one person of faith affects all people of faith everywhere. Anti-Semitism isn’t just an attack against Jews, it’s the antithesis of who we are. As we’ve seen, words have consequences.”
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, ignited a firestorm earlier this month by posting a tweet accusing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — the nation’s largest pro-Israel lobbying organization — of paying members of Congress to support Israel.
Last October, Midreshevet Shalhevet High School junior Simone Shafiro took part in AIPAC’s Schusterman Program, which teaches high school students how to combat anti-Semitism. “There’s the 20-20-60 rule,” Shafiro said. “Twenty percent are completely against you, 20 percent are with you, and you have to educate the other 60 percent.” She added that she wants to hear all viewpoints when trying to solve a problem.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, who represents the Five Towns, tweeted that she was disappointed with Omar, her House colleague. “At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise across the country and around the world, we need to take extra care to engage one another in a respectful and inclusive manner,” Rice wrote. “Anti-Semitic tropes have hurt Jewish communities for thousands of years, including last year’s horrific shooting in Pittsburgh. We must speak out against anti-Semitism whenever we hear or see it, no matter what side of the aisle it comes from.”
A longtime symbol of hate and violence against African-Americans stirred up controversy in the Roosevelt School District in February when a pair of nooses were included in a photographic collage on display in the district’s middle school. Three teachers were placed on paid administrative leave as school officials investigated the incident.
Cohen said that the problem — why symbols of hate, whether a noose or a swastika, recur — is most likely the result of what he called an “education gap.” “For the next generation to utilize those symbols and not make a significant deal of it, then you need to know why it’s a taboo, why it’s wrong and stop it among peers,” he said. “There has to be an educational component, not just a soapbox. We have a responsibility to teach.”
Admission to “Anti-Semitism in the Region and What is Being Done About It” is free, but those planning to attend can register in advance by calling Temple Israel of Lawrence, at (516) 239-1140, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The synagogue is at 140 Central Ave. in Lawrence.