Boston Jews are feeling newly hopeful and empowered after joining 25,000 other people in New York City to protest a recent spate of violent anti-Semitic hate crimes.
“We took something that was very painful to see and formed it into a celebration of pride and solidarity,” said Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore. “I definitely got the sense that this can’t be ignored and it has to be taken seriously, not just paying lip service to it, but by throwing serious resources at it. It was a message that was sent loud and clear by a very visible, vocal, strong and united Jewish community that spoke as one.”
On three buses organized by Combined Jewish Philanthropies, over 100 Jews from Greater Boston discussed what had motivated them to attend one of the largest marches for a Jewish cause in decades. “Some people mentioned their ancestors that were in the Holocaust, and no one marched for them there. Other people mentioned how specifically that last week of Hanukkah was a tipping point for them,” said Revere resident and Israeli American Council ACT Boston Program Manager Karen Bar-Or, referring to a stabbing rampage at a Hanukkah party in Monsey, N.Y. in December. The attack happened just two weeks after a shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, N.J. killed four, a grim end to a year with already record-high levels of anti-Semitic incidents.
“American Jews, whenever there’s injustice, they’re there. Over the years I’ve marched for different causes, and I never thought that I would need to march for Jews,” said Bar-Or. “Something in me wouldn’t let me not go. We need to go out, we need to have our voice heard, and we need to show a presence.”
It was quite a presence. The march, which was organized in just a few days, drew approximately 25,000 participants. They gathered at Foley Square at the southern tip of Manhattan, and walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to Cadman Plaza Park, where a large and diverse roster of politicians and activists affirmed the need to combat anti-Semitism and bigotry. Many of the Boston cohort, which included CJP President Marc Baker, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston President Jeremy Burton and Anti-Defamation League New England Executive Director Robert Trestan, marched across the bridge together proudly holding a big blue banner that proclaimed: “Boston Stands Against Hate.”
Speakers included important New York politicians, like Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Leaders of local Jewish, Latino, Black, Muslim and Christian groups also spoke, while Hasidic reggae artist Matisyahu sang. Bari Weiss, a New York Times columnist and author of the recently released book “How to Fight Anti-Semitism,” gave a rousing speech that Rabbi Lipsker said “should be transcribed and turned into a mini compulsory Jewish textbook.”
The vast crowd listening to their message included every kind of Jew. “You had black hatters, you had Hasidim, you had LGBTQ communities with their rainbows and you had Jews wearing ‘Make America Great Again’ red caps,” said David Bernat, a Needham resident and executive director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts. Participants also recalled seeing banners for the Jewish Labor Committee, the National Jewish Women’s Council, Workmen’s Circle, Moishe House, and many Israelis.
Many were especially heartened to see non-Jews in the crowds and on the podiums. “There were representatives from different communities, and I found their speeches about alliance and solidarity to be particularly moving, more than hearing from the Jewish professionals, which is great, but as a Jewish professional myself, I hear these sorts of talks all the time,” said Bernat, who pointed to speeches by a Methodist minister and the head of the Hispanic Alliance as some of the rally’s most memorable.
Both participants and the co-chairs of CJP’s Anti-Semitism Task Force said that outreach within and beyond the Jewish community, and enhanced security are needed to continue the fight against a rising tide of anti-Semitism. “We need to ask for allies, and we need to be an ally,” said Bernat. “If I want the imam to come out and speak on my behalf, if I want the Muslim and Latinx communities to join me when there’s a crisis, I need to be ready to do the same.”
“One of the things I’m hearing a lot about now is what is the role for the Jewish community to do this on its own as opposed to with other allies in the community,” said Karyn Cohen, co-chair of CJP’s Anti-Semitism Task Force during an open conference call and Q&A on anti-Semitism. “The question many have asked is if anti-Semitism is a Jewish problem, or if it’s everyone else’s problem? We can’t fix anti-Semitism without mobilizing the rest of the community to address it and understand it is an important strategy.”
“[Emory University professor and anti-Semitism expert] Deborah Lipstadt makes the point that you can’t be against one ‘ism’ without being against all the ‘isms’,” added co-chair Lisa Wallack. “From a moral as well as strategic point of view, it behooves us as a Jewish community to work with organizations that are feeling threatened and experiencing this uptick in hate crimes. From a strategic point of view, collaborating with these other organizations is also a way to potentially access additional resources.”
CJP’s Anti-Semitism Task Force is currently in the process of reviewing existing resources and procedures, and making sure that it effectively coordinates the work of different organizations invested in fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry. The task force will present CJP with recommendations at the end of January. At around the same time, CJP President Marc Baker will embark on a multi-town listening tour called “Conversations for Action” that will explore how to create a more welcoming Jewish community for all. He will be at Danversport in Danvers on Feb. 12.
In the wake of several violent attacks, security is at the top of everyone’s list. CJP has hired a full-time director of security and operations, Jeremy Yamin, who helps design free security trainings at Jewish institutions and schools. Through a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, CJP has worked with ADL, JCRC, and the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts to create the Jewish Emergency Management System (JEMS), which provides a variety of security trainings for individuals and institutions. Thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of JCRC, Massachusetts has granted $1 million in extra funding to religious institutions.
CJP has also partnered with the ADL to create comprehensive resources and training to combat anti-Semitism in schools, workplaces and elsewhere. The ADL recently released a 31-page “Good Fight Toolkit” that discusses in detail how to identify and confront anti-Semitism in daily life. “I think people should be engaged in combatting anti-Semitism all the time,” said Trestan. “It’s great that everyone was [at the march], but the real work happens when you come home, and the actions that you take, the conversations you have with others, the times that you report something when you see it. It’s not just about standing up to anti-Semitism at a rally in New York on a particular Sunday – it’s doing it every single day. That’s what matters.”
“Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem; anti-Semitism is an American problem and a global, human problem,” Baker and Burton wrote in a joint statement after the Monsey attack. “We need action – from within and beyond our own Jewish communities – to fight against anti-Semitism in all its forms. We refuse to normalize this.”