Learning how to battle anti-Semitism

Wiesenthal Center director speaks at Temple Israel of Lawrence


With the recent anti-Semitic incidents that have taken place locally, nationally and globally, the need for a discussion on how to fend off such attacks were the topic of a presentation at Temple Israel of Lawrence on Feb. 28.

The eastern director of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, Michael D. Cohen, presented “Anti-Semitism in the Region and What is Being Done About It.” Cohen noted the recent anti-Semitic incidents, while also touching on what his organization is doing to combat the hate.

Temple Israel Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum kicked off the event by giving his thoughts on what appears to be the never-ending verbal and physical attacks on Jews.

“I never would have thought that as an adult, I would be facing this specter of anti-Semitism that we are facing globally today,” he said.

Cohen started off by notithe anti-Semitic incident in the Rego Park section of Queens at P.S. 139 on Feb. 22, when there were dozens of swastikas along with messages that read “Hail Hitler” and “No Jews Allowed” that were drawn in chalk in the school yard. A boy, 12, was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment. The juvenile was not identified.

Swastikas were also drawn on a playground in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn on Feb. 24. “These aren’t events that are happening 3,000 miles away, this is happening in New York City,” Cohen, who also serves as a third-term city councilman in Englewood, N.J. said. “So far this year, there’s been 36 hate crimes that have taken place in New York State, at this point last year, the number was at 21.”

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. Cohen said that joining the center in 2015 was the best decision he’s made.

He noted that the organization wants to get young people involved in fighting in anti-Semitism. “Helping to build the next generation to fight this is just as critical as what we’re doing right now,” Cohen said.

Young people are beginning to become involved, he noted. At Rutgers University in 2017, professor Michael Chikindas reportedly posted dozens of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel comments on his Facebook page.

Chikindas was eventually demoted and Cohen pointed to the efforts of a few Rutgers student volunteers. “We had three to four kids in the age range of 18-20 go to the campus and obtain roughly 4,000 signatures for a petition that demanded school leadership to take action on this professor’s comments,” he said. “The process of getting the professor demoted started about a week later.”

Cohen also noted that anti-Semitism has penetrated government. “We have recently-elected members of Congress having a map of the Middle East in their office and covering up Israel with a post-it note that says Palestine on it,” he said. “We need to make sure that folks like this don’t get elected. Unfortunately, when they say they’re coming after us, they’re not kidding.”

Temple Israel of Lawrence Executive Director Alan Freedman noted the value of Cohen’s presentation.

“We felt an important need to have a program on anti-Semitism in the region because many people feel that they are safe in America as Jews, and for the most part they are,” he said. “However, after recent incidents, we want to continue to educate the community and to not let fear become a cornerstone of their Jewish identity. Programs like this one with Michael Cohen we believe can help prevent that.”