Just about no one wants a war or even a street fight, not in the Golan Heights and not in Crown Heights.
Almost suddenly these have become particularly trying and difficult times. Whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, or ignorant street thugs in Brooklyn, Jews are under assault. As sad as it is to say, history has recorded that while it was tragic and disturbing two generations ago, it wasn’t as upsetting as it should have been, or as we in our contemporary frame of reference would have thought it should be, that Jews were victims just for being Jews.
The encouraging news is that today things are different; at least at this stage of the game that is how it seems to be, though the victims do not feel that way.
After all these years, it is possible that even the extreme violent zealots in Iran, though armed to the maximum, are more verbose than anything else. War is hell and a big mess. Regardless of what triggers it or how long it lasts, the next day arrives and someone has to answer the question — now what?
On that level, it might be that the saber rattlers in the Middle East are more sensible than our legislators in Albany who now realize that they are the cause of a big problem that was created because each Democrat was bent on pandering to more extreme leftists than his or her colleagues.
As these two disparate situations evolve, the people involved — mostly the leadership — are now burdened with maintaining some semblance of order so that the world as we know it can move on safely and soundly.
One would have thought that after all these decades and so many conflicts that cost countless lives and many trillions of dollars that more thoughtfulness and understanding of what is at stake can prevail.
Here in New York and around the country, elected officials and government leaders are taking the lead on speaking out against anything that even hints at tolerance for anything resembling antisemitism or other forms of hate.
Last Friday, five members of Congress held a press conference in Cedarhurst, the center of the flourishing Jewish community on Long Island, to articulate their commitment to preventing anything like that happening here and working with neighboring communities to stem the tide of this hateful and violent downhill spiral.
It seems at this juncture that the most effective way to achieve these objectives is through legislation and good and effective police work.
The Five Towns news conference was spearheaded by Congresswoman Kathleen Rice and was attended by members of Congress Pete King, Lee Zeldin, Gregory Meeks (of Queens), and Tom Suozzi. Each spoke to the gathered press. In her remarks, Ms. Rice said, “In the wake of the stabbing in Monsey, the shooting in Jersey City, and the reports of antisemitic incidents occurring across the New York City metropolitan area, it has never been more important to speak out against this hate-filled violence.”
Congressman Meeks said, “It is important for me as an African American to make sure that those who are full of hate [know] we will not stand for it.” He added: “Good people will outweigh those who are full of hate. Dr. King once said that there will come a time when we won’t remember the actions of some of our enemies, but the lack of voices of our friends.”
These events have been exacerbated by a new law in New York that does not allow a judge to ask for bail when a suspect is brought before the court and charged with the types of assaults we have seen these past few weeks. State Senator Todd Kaminsky who voted for the new law says that he now understands that it was a mistake, is not working out, and will have to be changed. That will take at least until April.
The day prior to the Cedarhurst news conference there was a meeting between three rabbis and three African American community leaders in Far Rockaway. The meeting was attended by Rabbi Eytan Feiner, Rabbi Eliezer Feuer, and Baruch Rothman representing Rabbi Yaakov Bender, who was away. The African American community leaders were Congressman Meeks, State Senator Donovan Richards, and Pastor Evan Gray.
The six leaders discussed concerns on the agenda of both communities. They concluded that all would speak out and condemn hate regardless of what form it takes, and that a forum would be convened in the near future where members of both communities can interface, get to know one another, and work toward greater harmonious relations.
On Sunday, January 5 in lower Manhattan, the UJA sponsored a march across the Brooklyn Bridge in a demonstration of unity against hate speech that leads to the hate crimes we have unfortunately seen over these last few weeks.
It appears that what is needed quite urgently now is a combined effort of elected officials and community and religious leaders, with law enforcement playing an integral supportive role. Over the past few days, aside from the meeting of Jewish and black leaders in Far Rockaway, Rabbi Marc Schneier held a news conference with Reverend Al Sharpton who, curiously enough, has played roles on both sides of this equation.
On Sunday, January 12 at 3 p.m. there will be a march against antisemitism in Mineola that will feature religious, community, and government leaders.
There was also a march in Jerusalem demonstrating solidarity with Jews under assault here in the New York–New Jersey area. The march sponsored in part by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency was held in Jerusalem and attended by thousands. WZO Chairman Isaac Herzog said, “Thousands are marching in New York, Jews and non-Jews alike, from a deep sense of both outrage and responsibility in the face of the horrific venom that has recently reared its head — hatred of Jews in the United States. Jews are no longer as safe on the streets of the U.S. as they were over the past hundreds of years. We are here in Jerusalem standing together with them in solidarity, declaring: ‘No fear! No hate!’”
While the situation signals a crisis and deterioration in relationships between Jews in New York and some other communities, what has occurred so far is not much more than lone-wolf type of attacks from people who are in the throes of serious mental illness. Taking a step back to analyze what is going on here, it is difficult to say that this is a replica of life in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Some people insist that stating something like that is tantamount to living in denial and refusing to come to grips with reality.
This issue will not be settled here in this essay but there is a major difference when government adopts a policy that is anti-Jewish and jeopardizes Jewish lives and when ragtag mentally ill people with long criminal histories are the source of these attacks.
That does not mean that there isn’t a problem. We’ve all seen the videos in which random African Americans are interviewed and say things like they are against these assaults on their Jewish neighbors but that they understand why it is happening. This is an expression of an ugly sentiment, which is where leadership comes into the picture. People act on what they hear over a sustained period of time.
If a person attends church regularly and hears venomous words spewed weekly about Jews, that increases the likelihood of someone acting dangerously.
The hope is that cool heads will prevail in the Middle East with Iran seeing the killing of the terrorist Soleimani as an opportunity to improve relations with some countries, including the U.S., and moving in the direction of easing sanctions that have all but crippled the Iranian economy.
The key is that at this point, as in the past, we are all in this together. It really doesn’t matter if it is happening in the Golan Heights or Crown Heights.