NEWTON – On a day marked by solemn remembrance of the 11 lives lost in the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh exactly one year ago, the Anti-Defamation League took a significant step toward helping people speak out against anti-Semitism.
Sponsored by ADL New England and held at the Newton Marriott, “The Good Fight Forum” addressed emerging anti-Semitism in the nation and world. Participants received what organizers called a first-of-its-kind toolkit, a brochure showing how to fight anti-Semitism everywhere, from dinner-table conversations to newspaper opinion pages.
It was a tangible step capping a day that began with what Combined Jewish Philanthropies president and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker called “a ceremony of remembrance, solidarity and hope” in which he invoked “the guidance and presence of the Divine.”
Speakers included both Jews and non-Jews, and collectively represented such fields as government, law enforcement, religion, academia, journalism and sports. They came to address what one of them, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), called “literally one of the most critical times I’ve seen in modern American history.”
“Call it out for what it is. Stand up, speak out,” Kennedy said.
He noted that anti-Semitic incidents have occurred in his district in recent years, including Newton and Framingham, and said: “With local partners, we do everything we can to show up when it does happen, respond to their need … make sure people feel unity and solidarity behind [them].”
Ambassador Zeev Boker, the Israeli Consul General to New England, decried “the frightening rise of anti-Semitism in America” and said: “We stand with you, shoulder to shoulder, in the global fight against bigotry.”
The most poignant part of the day occurred during the morning community remembrance of the synagogue shooting, in which the names of the 11 victims were recited and commemorated with the Mourner’s Kaddish.
“One year ago, as we heard news of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, something changed for us,” said Rabbi Claudia Kreiman of Temple Beth Zion of Brookline, one of five Massachusetts rabbis to speak at the commemoration. “We know by now it was not a unique incident. It did not happen in a vacuum.”
She added that “Jews are hardly the only target,” listing “a spate of violent hate crimes” over recent years at places including houses of worship, schools and clubs.
“The pain of violence is close to home,” she said. “We must ask, how are we responding?”
For some, the pain has been very close to home, including New York Times journalist Bari Weiss, author of the recent book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” who participated in a discussion on anti-Semitism with Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt that was moderated by ADL New England Director Robert Trestan.
Weiss, who is from Pittsburgh, said her family knew six of the 11 victims of the synagogue shooting.
That day, she added, her brother-in-law, a Pittsburgh firefighter who was listening to the police scanner, said the shooter was reportedly shouting death threats to Jews. Six months later to the day, she noted, the Poway, California, shooting occurred, in which another shooter killed a worshiper at a Chabad synagogue.
“It was part of a much, much bigger wave,” Weiss said.
Lipstadt recalled going to synagogue two years ago with a friend and the friend’s daughter, who was 4½ at the time. Seeing a guard at the synagogue, the girl was confused about why someone was needed to protect her “happy place,” as Lipstadt recalled. A few weeks ago, the scholar met her friend’s daughter at the synagogue again. There was a guard wearing a flak jacket and carrying an automatic rifle.
“She was very quick; she didn’t need a prompt,” Lipstadt said. “She said, ‘Thank you for taking care of us.’ She was in her happy place and needed to be taken care of.”
According to the ADL, anti-Semitic incidents nationwide increased a record 57 percent in 2017.
Locally, incidents of anti-Semitism that have been reported to the police include attempted arson this year at an Arlington Chabad house. Its leader, Avi Bukier, was among the rabbis participating in the Pittsburgh memorial on Sunday.
The final event of the day was a town hall moderated by Concord-Carlisle alumnus and CNN anchor John Berman. It featured Kennedy, Middlesex DA Marian Ryan, Boston NAACP president Tanisha Sullivan and a surprise guest: Boston Celtics center Enes Kanter, who is from Turkey.
Kanter said that his family was persecuted and his Turkish passport was revoked after he criticized the Turkish government. He also said that he was heckled and assaulted when he and teammate Tacko Fall were leaving a mosque a few weeks ago.
“For me it was very sad [because it happened] outside a mosque, where people go to find peace, a house of God,” Kanter said.
Ryan said she was “most struck” by the youngsters who use anti-Semitic language.
“In elementary schools, unspeakable things are carved into playground slides,” she said. “[Go] into schools, identify issues, make teachable moments.”
Sullivan praised the ADL for supporting the NAACP on standing up to racism, saying that the two organizations work “hand in hand” to “make sure the dignity and worth of every person was respected.”