Jason Shames, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, wants you to know that New York and New Jersey in 2020 is not Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
“There you had elected officials promoting hate and bias, and passing laws restricting Jews. Here it’s the opposite,” Mr. Shames said, the day after a slew of federal, state, and county officials showed up to reassure the Jewish community of their support and protection at a safety and security summit organized by the Jewish federation.
An estimated 550 people showed up for the summit, which took place in the auditorium of Bergen County Academies in Hackensack.
With community fears of anti-Semitism spiking following murderous attacks on Jews in Jersey City and Monsey last month, “We thought the community needed education and reassurance of how elected officials are dealing with this,” Mr. Shames said.
“These are scary times,” Roberta Abrams, the federation’s president, said at the meeting. “When bias incidents and crimes against Jews become everyday news, we must act. There is a nationwide scourge of hate and often Jews are the target,” she said. “Federation works every day to reduce anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. Everyone, no matter their race, religion, gender, or lifestyle preference, deserves to live in a world where they will be protected and valued.”
Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was the first public official to address the gathering. “Hate grows like a toxin, like an infection, like a weed,” he said. “Any signs of hatred and anti-Semitism must be met with unequivocal and resolute force. We have to take official actions.”
Mr. Booker quoted Martin Luther King, Jr.: “‘It may be true that the law cannot change the heart, but it can restrain the heartless.’
“I’m proud of taking concrete actions to keep our community safe,” he continued. “Everything from fighting BDS to making sure we get the resources our state needs for our houses of worship, for our community centers. No one should remain silent. This is a time in which all of us should be speaking up condemning the hate, celebrating our connection, and allowing no shelter for those who want to divide our society against itself.
“Often in the times of most difficulty we see the truth of who we are,” Mr. Booker concluded. “In this difficult time of pain and tragedy and loss in New Jersey, in this time of hurt, we should also be proud that we are standing together to ensure that we are never again too late to respond to hatred.”
Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said that “the most horrific” acts of anti-Semitism, “from Jersey City to Monsey, from Pittsburgh to Poway, have shocked us to the core.”
He opposed “the stoking of hate.
“We see it from the left and from the right, when politicians spout anti-Semitic conspiracies about funding migrants, or blame Israel for every problem in the Middle East. We see it when tech giants not only shrug off anti-Semitism online, but profit from its spread on social media. And we see it in the flourishing of radical fringe groups,” he said.
Anti-Semitism “is like a cancerous tumor that grows larger with every act carried out in its name,” he continued. “It creates a permissive structure that it’s okay somehow to paint a swastika on a school building or to use anti-Semitic slurs online or to fire on peaceful worshipers in a synagogue.
“In times like these, it is incumbent on people of all faiths and backgrounds to stand up and say without equivocation that anti-Semitism has no place in our communities, in our state, in this country, and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, regardless of how we worship or what we look like.”
“Some things can be done to disarm hate and reduce gun violence across our nation. I will not stop fighting until common-sense gun safety reforms become law,” he said to applause.
Senator Menendez said that as the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he frequently meets with foreign heads of state. When meeting with leaders of countries that have problems with anti-Semitism, he presses them about what they’re doing about it. “We know wherever anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, racial hatred and violence aren’t far behind,” he said.
Mr. Menendez spoke with pride of his successful efforts as a state legislator to enhance New Jersey’s hate crime laws. “We can send a societal message that we don’t tolerate crimes of hate of any kind,” he said. “Now is the time for robust enforcement at both the state and federal level. If we need more reforms, we will write them and fight for them until they become law.
“It’s not only Jews who can practice the effort of tikkun olam,” he concluded. “All of us can.”
“I’m grateful that the federation brought us together today,” Congressman Josh Gottheimer (D-Dist. 5) said. “It’s so important that we continue to come together. He who is silent assents. We must never, never for one minute give our assent, whether it’s to Islamophobia or racism or targeting the LGBTQ community. We must reiterate that we are a no-hate state.
“We remain committed to keeping our schools and religious institutions safe. It’s essential to strengthen hate crime reporting. We must stand together, every single day, every single week, to make sure that in the greatest country in the world, we never let hate win,” Mr. Gottheimer said.
Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-Dist.9) grew heated in his remarks.
“We are all involved,” he said. “What’s with one is for all. This has nothing to do with Democrats and Republicans. This has to do with me as a participant and you as a participant.”
He held up a newspaper clipping. “Today’s headline: Trump’s Muslim travel ban could expand.”
The solution “is not legislative — as important as that is. The non-profit security grant money didn’t just come out of the sky. Domestic extremism has been with us many, many moons. And when Congress was warned in 2009 in a report of what that domestic terrorism included, that Congress in its wisdom, and that administration — two administrations — in its wisdom did nothing, nothing, zero, because they were afraid.”
“I was proud to stand with the speaker of the house this week to send formal authorization for this [non-profit homeland security grant] program we’ve all refered to today. It’s a crucial step but it’s only a start.
“To protect our synagogues and to protect our churches and our mosques and other venues of worship will take more than millions of dollars. The best way of neutralizing extremism is not reacting to it after another attack, but deactivating the boiling rage before it explodes. I am convinced that the only way to do this is recognizing another’s pain as my own.
“This is not small potatoes. This is a critical point for our society.”
This is the first time that the two congressman who represent Jersey City addressed the Jewish community of Bergen County. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has only recently expanded to cover Hudson County; it was only in the wake of the Jersey City shooting that Mr. Shames met with the two representatives.
Congressman Albio Sires (D-Dist. 8), who was born in Cuba, started with his own story. “My parents brought me to this country at age 11,” he said. “All of a sudden I hear ‘Spic this’ and ‘Spic that.’ It was bewildering that people have this hatred when they don’t even know you.
“I cannot for the life of me understand how this level of hatred has risen to what it is today. This anti-Semitism, this hatred, has to be eradicated.
“I learned a long time ago that not everybody in this world is good, that not everybody in this world is accepting. But I learned that you never give up, that you should never let them win, because love is much better than hatred.”
“I visited the site in Jersey City,” he continued. “I was sick to my stomach when I got home. To see a store that was so shot up, just because they are a little bit different. I cannot understand that mentality.”
Mr. Sires’s wife, Adrienne, is Jewish.
“I’ve been married 39 years to a Jewish woman. I survived,” he said to laughter and applause. “I learned a few things along the way. My wife used to say, ‘keinehora, can you eat?’”
Mr. Sires promised to “work with my colleagues to make sure that you are secure, that you can enjoy your religion, that you can enjoy your family, that you can help us and help me and help my colleagues eradicate this hatred that is in the world.”
Congressman Donald Payne Jr. (D-Dist. 10) said that “no one in this country should ever have to live in fear. Nobody should worry that a trip to the grocery store will be their last. I take hate and anti-Semitism very seriously. I attended the shiva for Mindy Ferencz, one of the victims in Jersey City.
“Last week I had the honor of standing next to Speaker Pelosi and Bill Pascrell when she signed the bill that will provide $75 million in grant dollars so temples and faith-based institutions can upgrade their physical and digital security systems. Americans should not be afraid to enter their houses of worship, ever.
“As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, I helped create a bill to provide more information and research on domestic terrorism such as violent anti-Semitism. The Domestic and International Terrorism DATA Act will collect data on people and groups who commit terrorist acts,” he said.
The Democratic House passed the bill in September; the Republican Senate has not yet voted on it.
“This is not just my job,” Mr. Payne said. “This is personal to me.”
After hearing from six Democratic senators and congressmen, Dan Shlufman of Tenafly, who chairs the federation’s Jewish Community Relations Committee, reminded the audience that “fighting hate is not a Democratic or Republican position. It is bipartisan.”
State Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D- Dist. 36) talked about actions the state government is taking. “Last year the legislature put into the budget and the governor agreed to sign a bill which would provide $1 million for target hardening of institutions throughout the state. Last week, Senator Joseph Cryan of Union County dropped a bill in the Senate providing an additional million dollars for target hardening.”
Both bills were approved the day after the meeting.
Assemblyman Schaer also spoke of his success in advocating for increased security funding for private school students. “In 2015 and 2016 the governor and legislature advocated $25 per child in every parochial and private school in the state. I’m a prime sponsor,” he said.
“Many came to me and said, ‘Why should the state be doing this for parochial school students?’ These are also New Jersey students. We’re not taking funds and teaching the Catholic catechism or teaching Talmud. We’re protecting all of New Jersey’s children.
“In 2017, the fund went to $75 per child.
“In 2018 the sum is $150 per child. That is $22.6 million of state aid.
“I will propose a bill tomorrow to increase from $150 to $250 per child, bringing the allocation to $36 million. And I will introduce a bill to increase funding for target hardening from $2 million to $10 million in next year’s budget.
“The governor said, ‘We have to solve the root problem.’
“I said, ‘Governor, this is a 5,000-year problem. Until we educate our children differently, educate our children better, we need resources to make sure our children and their parents and grandparents are safe and secure.’”