New York State Senate hosts roundtable on antisemitism
According to the Audit of Antisemitic Incidents from the Anti Defamation League, there was a 36 percent increase of antisemitic incidents from 2021. It was the highest amount of incidents, tabulated at 3,697, since the Anti Defamation League began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.
On Sept. 17 and 18, five Jewish houses of worship, including North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, received similar bomb threats that were found to be “not credible.”
North Shore Synagogue Rabbi Jaimee Shalhevet, during a sermon published online, addressed the bomb threat they received that Monday morning on Sept. 18.
“None of the threats were real and nobody was hurt in any situation,” Rabbi Shalhevet said. “Many synagogues were evacuated out of precaution and all were thoroughly checked by police and deemed safe. For those synagogues whose services were disrupted by the evacuation, they continued to pray at a safe distance and returned to their sanctuaries once there was no more threat.”
Rabbi Shalhevet said that North Shore Synagogue did not receive the threat during the service, but everyone in the building were evacuated, including 107 nursery school students.
Jacquelynn Golub, the executive director, coordinated the evacuation to the Woodside Golf Course, and while the students learned and singed with Rabbi Shalhevet, President Sondra Cardno and Principal Jacquie Sanchez alerted parents and reunited them with their children. Staff returned to the building after it was deemed safe.
Hebrew school that night was held as planned, and nursery school continued the next day, as well as plannings for Yom Kippur.
In her message, Rabbi Shalhevet explained that certain forms of antisemitism can be combated, such as confronting a coach who penalizes a player for missing a game for Rosh Hashanah services or educating someone who makes stereotypical statements. But it’s harder to educate someone who is ready to take a life, or threaten one, which is why Jewish houses of worship and institutions should be protected.
During Yom Kippur, Nassau County and Suffolk County Police increased patrols outside of synagogues and temples.
A little over a week after the threats, New York State Sen. Jack Martins chaired the second Antisemitism Working Group at the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building in Mineola with Senators Patricia Canzoneri Fitzpatrick, Joseph Griffo, Peter Oberacker and Bill Weber. The aim of the rountable was to provide the senators with ideas to bring back to Albany to prevent more acts of antisemitism.
Joining the senators were Avi Posnick of StandWithUs; Sabrina Gregg, the Nassau County Police Department’s bias liaison officer; Gerard Filitti, civil and human rights attorney; Abraham Hamra, a law firm partner and Jewish-Syrian refugee; Eric Post, the American Jewish Council’s regional director; Jeffrey Lax, a City of New York (CUNY) professor; Mindy Perlmutter, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council; Chris Ferro, Nassau County Police Department Chief of Detectives; Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, a member of the Nassau County’s Special Legislative Task Force to Combat Antisemitism; Evan Bernstein Director of Community Security Service; and Michelle Ahdoot of EndJewHatred.
The roundtable was moderated by Scott Cushing, special advisor to the Nassau County Executive for the Combating Antisemitism Task Force. And audience members included Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Jen DeSena, Herricks Board of Education President Jim Gounaris, Great Neck Plaza Mayor Ted Rosen, Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker, of the Nassau County’s Special Legislative Task Force to Combat Antisemitism, New York State Assemblymember Ari Brown, among many others.
Each of the panelists introduced themselves and gave their testimony, as well as their recommendations on how to prevent antisemitism in schools, in colleges, in synagogues and in everyday life.
Ferro explained that in working with the local FBI office, the police learned that the suspect of the bomb threats is not in the country. “There are over 200 similar investigations into the same exact verbiage throughout the region,” Ferro said.
“The FBI does have someone of interest. The person is not in this country currently.”
Ferro said that he’d like to see the police, with the district attorney, not have to go through “leaps and bounds” to obtain IP and subscriber information in order to find leads.
“Now it takes weeks to get information,” Ferro said.
In cases where there’s repeat locations where people are damaging property with antisemitic slurs and imagery, it’s helpful to get more lighting and cameras there, like in the case of a park in Cedarhurst.
Ferro said he’d also like to see increased penalties for hate offenses, earlier education starting with elementary school and more trainings on bias.
“It’s very frustrating for police officers to have to respond after the fact,” Gregg said. “Getting this opportunity to speak to what we can do proactively is extraordinary.”
Gregg pitched the idea of having a hate offenders registry, similar to a sex offenders registry.
“What it would do is penalize even acts such as swatting (deceiving an emergency service to respond to another person’s address) or doxing (publishing private information about someone on the Internet),” Gregg said. “If you were attached to this registry, it would be set up and monitored similarly by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.”
Gregg explained that offenses include hate offense, bias incidents and hate speech, and that because people who want to threaten groups know the laws, they tow the line in order to not receive charges. Gregg said if a person was giving financial assistance or time towards a hate group, they should have to be registered as a hate offender.
Perlmutter agreed that there is currently not enough to make arrests in incidents where antisemitic propaganda is left on people’s cars and properties.
“We need to find a way to make problems out of these horrible fliers,” Perlmutter said. “It’s coming on my property. But nothing can be done.”
Several of the panelists also recommended more education in schools beyond a lesson on the Holocaust during a World War Two unit.
“I truly believe more education is the way,” Hamra said. “There’s going to be a lot of talk on how to stop the negative, and I feel like we’re playing a game of wack-a-mole. No matter what we do, something else pops up, and so Holocaust education is important… But the Holocaust was an occurrence that happened because of the diaspora of the Jewish people. It’s not the beginning of the Jewish people. It’s not the story of the Jewish people. It’s the story of the tragedy of what happens when Jewish people are left without a place to call home.”
During the meeting, several speakers shared in the message that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” Rabbi Shalhevet echoed that antisemitism and anti-Zionism go hand-in-hand in her message.
Anti-Zionism, according to the Anti Defamation League, is defined as the opposition to Zionism, the movement for the self-determination and statehood of the Jewish people in their ancestral homeland, the land of Israel.
“To be sure, one can harshly criticize Israel’s leaders and actions without being antisemitic,” an article by the Anti Defamation League stated. “But accusing ‘Zionists,’ or anyone who supports the existence of the State of Israel, of behavior commonly associated with age-old tropes about Jews (such as greed, bloodthirstiness and power) is antisemitic. Additionally, this rhetoric villainizes the vast majority of Jews around the world who identify with Zionism or feel a connection or kinship with Israel (regardless of their individual views on Israeli policies).”
Perlmutter recommended that Nassau County should have a non-emergency line to call like Suffolk County’s 311.
“You have trained people who work in the 311 system that now all you do is pick up the phone, dial 311 and report an incident of hate crime,” Perlmutter said.
Nassau County residents do have the ability to text 911 if they need to report an incident.
Legislator Pilip, who immigrated to Israel with her parents in 1991 during a period of dangerous instability in their home country of Ethiopia, explained that the Nassau County’s Special Legislative Task Force to Combat Antisemitism did a lot of work through holding public hearings, meeting with school superintendents and getting an antisemitism bill signed. But, she’s feeling that the task force’s power is limited.
“I have my own seven children, and a son starting to ask about his bar mitzvah and I have to think twice about giving it to him because I’m afraid something could happen,” Pilip said. “I don’t want to think like this. I want to raise my children free, proud Jew. When parents tell me their experience walking with their children and some people just look at them and say ‘dirty Jew.’ They say ‘Legislator Mazi, when I moved here four years ago, it wasn’t like this.’ Now I’m okay, I can handle it. But my kids to hear it, ‘dirty Jew…’ They ask me, ‘mom, why do they call us dirty Jew?’… It’s really heart breaking. It shouldn’t be.”
Cushing agreed that there’s only so much Nassau County Legislators and Executive Bruce Blakeman, the Nassau County Police Department, as well as officials like Supervisor DeSena, could do to prevent antisemitism.
“We have all these beautiful laws on bullying… we have all these protocols, but I can tell you based upon testimony we received as the task force meeting that was held downstairs, there were no protocols for kids dealing with this issue on social media,” Cushing said. “They were targeted. They were direct messaged. They had videos… Yet there was silence. Nobody did anything.”
Cushing then confirmed with Posnick that StandWithUs had to provide students experiencing harassment with legal representation to hold the school accountable.
“It pains me to hear what I’m hearing tonight,” Herricks Board of Education President Jim Gounaris said. “I’ve spent 13 years passing policy after policy about hate and tolerance and diversity and equity and inclusion, and this conversation has to happen in the year of 2023. What we struggle with on the Board of Education level is we receive mandates from the state constantly about different things we must do. And we follow them… There hasn’t been a mandate or policy or anything that’s come from the state education system with regards to antisemitism.”
Gounaris then told the senators that in order to get the state education department to require a curriculum, a deadline needs to be set.
“We as students and adults will only learn the travesty of this sort of situation if they’re taught from the time they’re young and have a better understanding,” Gounaris said. “They don’t have an understanding of the meaning of the words. They don’t understand how hurtful that is.”
Supervisor DeSena said there should be a policy of “zero tolerance,” because no child should ever be told a slur.
“We can not have this in 2023,” DeSena said. “There have to be consequences. Where are the adults? We have this great Nassau County police. If we don’t do it, if we don’t give them the tools to do it, how many children are going to hear this? And it hurts all the children.”
More antisemitism roundtables will follow.
View a video of the entire roundtable at www.facebook.com/SenatorJackMartins.