November 1, 2023 — White Plains, NY
The following column from AJC Westchester/Fairfield Director Myra Clark-Siegel and Westchester County Executive George Latimer appeared in many USA Today Network newspapers in New York.
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. For Muslims, it is Friday; for Christians, Sunday; and for Jews, from sundown Friday night through sunset Saturday night. Three Abrahamic faiths, united by our deep roots, each with a day of rest.
One of us is Roman Catholic; the other a Jew. Our faiths are different but our conviction in humanity and being upstanders for our diverse communities unites us.
Whether it is a church, mosque, temple or synagogue, a house of worship is one of refuge and spiritual enrichment; communal prayer and celebration. More than a religious center; these are spiritual homes and places for safe communal gatherings. They are literally our sanctuaries.
Last Friday, we observed the fifth anniversary of the shooting spree at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, home to three separate congregations. Eleven Jews were murdered and six more injured by a cold-blooded antisemite the morning of Shabbat — what the Jews call their Sabbath.
It remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.
Many faiths proudly have signs outside their houses of worship stating, “We’re open. Come on in.” Yet for the Jewish community, this is, sadly, not possible.
The scourge of antisemitism has meant that synagogues must institute security measures rivaling that of international airports. Armed guards and police. Metal detectors. Bulletproof glass.
They are now as much a part of synagogue life as prayer, song and the joy of coming together as a community every week. Yes, even in New York, home to the most Jews in the world outside of Israel.
The Tree of Life anniversary was observed less than three weeks after the barbaric attacks in Israel — also on Shabbat — by the terror organization Hamas, which murdered 1,400 Israelis and took over 220 hostages including babies, teenagers and Holocaust survivors.
The Hamas attack stoked a wave of antisemitic acts and hate-filled vitriol across the nation, especially on college campuses. Some Jewish students are afraid to attend classes. Others have faced classmates carrying signs that say “Keep the world clean” with a Jewish star in a garbage can.
That language is similar to rhetoric used by Nazis as they sought to exterminate Europe’s Jews. It was displayed without irony and certainly without remorse. There is nothing wrong with advocating for the rights of civilians. But if in the same breath you also call for the eradication of Israel, that is a problem.
Antisemitism here used to be more subtle; the rejection of Jews at certain country clubs or steering Jews away from moving into certain neighborhoods. Now, the quiet part is said out loud.
Last month, a car covered with a Nazi swastika and antisemitic verbiage was spotted in White Plains, the center of government in Westchester County and home to the nation’s eighth-largest Jewish community. The driver, a local man, was found to have a .40-caliber handgun. We don’t know if he intended to act upon his hate. But we never want to be in a position to find out.
A 2022 American Jewish Committee national survey highlighted that nearly four in 10 American Jews changed their behavior out of fear of being a Jewish target. For some, that means hiding their Star of David necklace, wearing a yarmulke or posting their views on social media. AJC also found nearly one in four American Jews had been the target of antisemitism, and 41% said the status of Jews in the U.S. is less secure than a year ago.
Jews are also the target of the majority of religiously motivated hate crimes, according to new numbers from the FBI. Jews should not be afraid to be Jewish in America. Yet here we are.
We cannot let the warning of “Never Again” that resounded after the Holocaust become “Once Again.”
Antisemitism is not only an attack on Jews but an assault on the core values of any democratic and pluralistic society. When Jews are targeted on the basis of their religion or identity; when Israel is the only country singled out among the family of nations, that is antisemitism.
We must not — we cannot — allow the normalization of antisemitism in society. We must be upstanders for one another, no matter our political views, religion or background.
Together, we will remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. May the memories of the innocent victims of these terror attacks be an eternal blessing. Let us all reaffirm our core values and work to eradicate hate in our state.