Two U.S. senators, two congressmen, one governor, and many state and local officials stood in the main gym of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly on Friday morning, in a rally called by
Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) to condemn hatred in general and the rash of bomb threats against JCCs nationwide in particular.
“Anti-Semitism is not dead or dormant,” Mr. Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, lamented. “Whether it’s the defacement of property or the attempts at the delegitimization of the State of Israel, it’s incumbent to speak out against anti-Semitism.”
Mr. Menendez said that when he was in the New Jersey state legislature, he had written the state’s bias crime law.
“We cannot stop hatred in somebody’s heart, but bias laws sent a societal message that we do not tolerate crimes of hate,” he said. “Whether you are a Sikh who wears a turban, a Hindu who wears a bindi, a Muslim who wears a hijab, a Christian who wears a cross, or a Jew who wears a Star of David, together we understand that we are stronger than those who hate.”
He said that he will ask the administration and the Senate Appropriations Committee to double the number of Homeland Security grants awarded to nonprofit organizations. The program gives $20 million in grants to nonprofits so they can increase their security measures. Over the years, Jewish institutions have been the primary recipients of these grants.
“Let us stand up for tolerance,” Mr. Menendez said. “Today we say we are all Jews.”
Governor Chris Christie said the hate behind the bomb threats “is foreign to my experience in New Jersey. We are the most ethnically and religiously diverse state in the nation.”
It is not enough to condemn hate, the governor, a Republican, continued. “It is important to also speak out about the opposite side, how much this diversity makes us better. When we hear the awful remark we have to let the person know it’s unacceptable. It’s not good enough to wait for someone in authority to do something about it. If you want to be one of the 8.9 million people of New Jersey, one of the requirements is to love your neighbor as yourself.
“I hope we will speak out against all other forms of hate,” Mr. Christie added, noting that the Jewish community in fact has taken the lead in this regard.
“We are here in response to hate, and we are here in affirmation of love,” Cory Booker, the Democrat who is New Jersey’s junior U.S. senator, said. “We must be agents of hope.
“This is not a partisan issue. I call on all of us here that we will never let a hateful word be the last word. Let us go out from here not just to condemn hatred. Let us tell our truth as Americans, let people know that we are a nation that celebrates every one of our citizens.”
“The speech that inflames and instigates was not born overnight,” Bill Pascrell, the Democratic congressman who represents New Jersey’s ninth district, said. He noted that mosques have been burnt in Florida and Texas — and praised the Jewish community for coming to the aid of repairing the burnt mosques, “18 dollars at a time.”
He called for a “holistic, inclusive approach to counter violent extremism” and self-radicalization.
“These acts of violence do not happen in a vacuum,” he said. “This is why our words matter.”
Rookie Congressman Josh Gottheimer, the Democrat who represents New Jersey’s fifth district, talked about being “as scared as everyone else when I drop my son off at his Jewish preschool.
“This national trend is not by accident,” he said. “When you divide people up this is what happens.
“We can’t allow partisan gamesmanship to get in the way of protecting our children and families,” he added. “Our diversity is our greatest strength.”
State Senator Loretta Weinberger of Teaneck, that body’s majority leader, said that “I am so tired we have to continue this fight generation after generation.”
“On this issue, it was really a pleasure and an honor to be sharing the platform with the governor,” she added.