All five members of the Long Island congressional delegation — 3 Republicans and 2 Democrats — were joined on Friday by two state legislators, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and two village mayors as well as civic leaders and rabbis from the Five Towns and elsewhere on Long Island to denounce anti-Semitism and show their support for the Jewish community.
Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who represents the Five Towns, organized the event and was joined by her House colleagues at Cedarhurst Village Hall— Republicans Peter King and Lee Zeldin and Democrats Tom Suozzi and Gregory Meeks — to present a united front. Zeldin, who served in the military and is a reservist, is Jewish.
“Unfortunately we’re here today in the Five Towns due to a disturbing spike in ant-Semitic incidents that has plagued our community for the past several weeks,” Rice said. “I am here to provide reassurance in the strongest possible terms that we will do everything we can at the federal, state and local levels of government, because we are all New Yorkers, and an attack on one religious, racial or ethnic group is an attack on all of us.”
Through the federal nonprofit security grant program, $1.7 million was secured in 2019 for 17 Jewish organizations, synagogues and schools in Rice’s 4th Congressional District, she said. Another $75 million will be available nationwide if President Trump signs the Strengthen Security Act against Terrorism bill, which was passed by both the House and Senate. Rice also noted the proposed Never Again Education Act, a bipartisan bill to expand Holocaust education training and resources for teachers across the country, as another way of counteracting anti-Semitism.
Ryder said that the number of hate crimes in Nassau County had doubled from 2018 to 2019, from five to 10. There were nine in 2017. “We will make arrests,” he said. “It is time to step up, tell the police and let the experts do what we do.”
Assemblywoman Melissa Miller, a Republican from Atlantic Beach, said she would introduce legislation to attack the problem this week. “[It] will add those offenses categorized under New York State Penal Law as hate crimes as a qualifying offense,” Miller explained. “Meaning the judge would have the discretion and the ability to set bail when somebody is charge with a hate crime.”
After learning of Miller’s proposed bill, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said it would support adding hate crimes to the list of bailable offenses, and discuss other potential changes.
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Beach who is also Jewish, recalled visiting his grandmother on Sundays when he was young. Each time she put a few coins or dollars in an envelope to donate to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish National Fund or the United Jewish Appeal. “And one day I asked her, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ ” Kaminsky recounted, “and she looked at me, reminded me of what happened to her aunts and uncles in Lithuania and said, ‘It could happen anywhere’.” An estimated 90 percent of that country’s Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Asked about the new law, Kaminsky, who called for a certain amount of judicial discretion to ensure that defendants who are considered dangerous remain in custody, said that a legislative review of the bill should be considered. “If we say we want to see zero tolerance on hate crimes, we’ll have to follow through,” he said.
Rabbi Kenneth Hain, of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence, said that synagogues and schools are spending a great deal of money to keep congregants safe. “We need more,” he said at the news conference. “It is clearly a different time. The threat is greater. It can’t be business as usual.”
The gathering was a reaction to more than a dozen attacks in New York and New Jersey in December that were fueled by anti-Semitism. Among them, a Queens man verbally abused and physically threatened three people, including a rabbi and an 11-year-old, in the North Lawrence Costco on Dec. 8; three civilians and a police detective were killed during an armed assault on a kosher supermarket Jersey City on Dec. 10; and five people were stabbed in upstate Monsey on Dec. 28, at a Chanukah party at a rabbi’s house.
At Friday’s event, Ari Brown made his way to the lectern just as a news conference was ending.
Brown, who was not scheduled to speak, faced the assembled political and religious leaders.
“I am Ari Brown, deputy mayor of Cedarhurst. I’m of Jewish and Italian descent,” he said. “Growing up, me and my brothers in Franklin Square, every week we got into a fistfight [being called] ‘dirty Jew’ this and that, and my neighbor Sean Hannity — yes, that Sean Hannity — would come out and defend me and my brothers when that would happen.”
Brown said that more members of Congress, including some of the representatives he was addressing, could have done more to combat the increase in anti-Semitic incidents locally and across the country by strongly condemning the actions of their peers — Democrats Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan — who have inflamed tensions by spewing anti-Semitic rhetoric.
The House of Representatives declined to specifically rebuke Omar.
“Everyone here has good intentions,” Brown said, glancing at the officials behind him. “You do the right thing and people will respect you for it.”
Later, Brown told the Nassau Herald that he didn’t want to be disrespectful, but the rabbis in attendance supported him.