By Larry Gordon
An open-to-the-public board meeting on Monday night at the Rockville Centre Village a mere few miles from the Five Towns finally addressed the matter of anti-Semitic comments at a village meeting prior to Pesach.
The meeting this week heard comments from two Five Towns residents—attorney Judah Cohen, who was one of the first people I alerted to what took place at a village meeting that excoriated Orthodox Jews and the Five Towns, and Michael Cohen, also a Five Towns resident and a director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center here in New York. Lawrence School District Trustee Dr. Asher Mansdorf also attended the meeting.
You will recall that the issue unfolded a few weeks ago when a Rockville Centre resident spoke before the board explaining that she had discovered an eight-foot-high menorah on the lawn of the home of Rabbi Mendel Gurkov in the village. She said she believed this was an indication that the plan is to open a synagogue at the location at some point.
She drew her conclusion based on the fact that she had been a resident of the Five Towns and that she witnessed the demographic change and the influx of Orthodox Jews to that community and what was the opening of a “synagogue on every block,” which is not true.
She then asserted, referencing her new home of Rockville Centre, that “it can happen here.”
Her comments were roundly condemned and called out by leaders on all levels as being a display of anti-Semitism and hate speech. Comments by an array of officials from Governor Hochul, Senator Schumer, and County Executive Blakeman said that this type of hate speech has no place in our country.
On Monday night, the RCV Board was addressed by Judah Cohen, who opened as follows: “I am here tonight, on the heels of Passover, the holiday Jews call Zeman Cheiruteinu, the time of our freedom, and following the more recent Holocaust Remembrance Day, to address and publicly comment on anti-Semitic words spoken in this chamber a little over three weeks ago. Words spoken that have remained unaddressed to the consternation of many. Words uttered cannot be swept under the rug and they are surely not forgotten! In this chamber, Orthodox Jews, a community, and its schools were maligned. The statement by this Board that “Rockville Centre remains a welcoming, caring, and inclusive community that embraces all members of the village” was tepid and did not mollify thousands of offended Orthodox Jewish Americans.
“Words spoken here before this Board were anti-Semitic and no amount of whitewashing will clean its smear. It is not a fiction in the minds of those who heard those hateful words spoken in this public arena. It is a reality. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. The tone of the message was clear—Rockville Centre should be Judenrein of Orthodox Jewry; in effect: ‘Orthodox Jews shall not replace us!’ is the message heard round the world and it is still echoing. Silence in the face of those anti-Semitic words amounts to tacit approval. Anti-Semitic remarks made in this chamber must be specifically addressed and publicly condemned.”
Michel Cohen (not related to Judah) sounded a similar theme and added: “In this environment, this body heard an individual address the council for almost nine minutes, and while she talked continuously about the trauma of having lived in a Jewish community, about all of the horrors that Jews bring, about how if you let Jews come they destroy all that is beautiful about your town—this body said nothing. When this individual asked for this body to look into taking proactive anti-Semitic measures to block Jewish institutions and synagogues, this body responded that they would discuss the possibility with the municipal attorney and get back to her.
“When this individual started her remarks by saying that she had been in contact with you prior to her speech, it is clear that this body knew what was coming and once again did nothing.”
Time has passed, but an issue like this does not just disappear. Situations like these have come up too often to just ignore them or look the other way.
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