As attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions continued last week, two-to-three thousand people rallied in Cedarhurst Park on Thursday night to condemn the scourge of anti-Semitism and speak up for Israel.
“Jew hatred and all hate crimes have no place in our society,” Rabbi Shalom Axelrod of the Young Israel of Woodmere told the crowd, which officials said was the largest ever assembled in the Five Towns park.
Speakers included elected officials, rabbis, leaders of local schools and organizations, non-Jewish clergy and Israel Nitzan, Israel’s Acting Consul General in New York.
“There is no excuse for anti-Semitism and there is no excuse for hate,” Nitzan said.
The anti-Jewish flare-up coincided with last month’s attack on Israel by the Hamas terrorist entity that controls Gaza. Israel fought back as it was targeted by some 4,000 Hamas missiles, sparking suggestions in mainstream and social media that the Jewish state’s actions were at least somewhat to blame for the attacks on American Jews.
That notion was roundly rejected by rally speakers.
Former Lawrence Mayor Marty Rosen recalled how as an American soldier he saw survivors of Hitler’s death camps at the end of World War II.
The six million Jews Hitler killed were “respondible for the same ‘crime’ that everybody in this park is — being Jewish,” said Rosen, a Hewlett Harbor resident and a founder and board member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “That was their crime. They did nothing wrong.”
Rosen, the last surviving member of his WWII unit, described seeing Hitler’s victims, “emaciated, hungry. We were aghast. … Unfortunately, the Holocaust is back-burner today. A lot of people in this country don’t want to know it, deny it happened.”
State Senator Todd Kaminsky laid out a four-point definition of an anti-Semite.
“First, if you believe Israel does not have a right to defend itself, that is anti-Semitism,” Kaminsky said.
“Two, if you’re interested in defunding Israel, you’re interested in promoting anti-Semitism.
“Three, if you believe in BDS and starving the Israeli economy, you are promoting anti-Semitism.
“And fourth, if it’s okay to have open season on the streets of America on Jews, then you’re standing by anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Zev Meir Friedman of Rambam Mesivta in Lawrence pointed out that the rise of anti-Semitism was a national crisis, so a march on Washington was called for.
“It can’t stop here. Tonight is not enough,” he said. “All Jews have to unite to speak against anti-Semitism.”
“To be anti-Zionist is to be an anti-Semite,” said Rabbi Hershel Billet of the Young Israel of Woodmere. Rabbi Billet had just returned from an emergency rabbinic mission to Israel organized by UJA-Federation.
“The Jews that were harmed” in the commuities he visited “were not harmed because they’re Israelis. They were harmed because they are Jews.”
“In Lod and in Akko synagogues were destroyed. When you destroy a synagogue it’s not a matter of politics against Israel. It’s a matter of harming Jews and anti-Semitism.”
Rabbi Billet continued:
“Yigal Yehoshua, Leo Frank, Albert Bettelheim, SA Bierfield — what did they all have in common? They were Jews who were lynched and murdered.
“Yigal Yehoshua was lynched two weeks ago in Lod. Leo Frank in Georgia in 1915. Albert Bettelheim in the South in 1915. SA Bierfield in Tennessee in 1868 because he was nice to an African American person and did business with him.”
While Rabbi Billet praised local elected officials who “have been great — all of them without exception, they have spoken out,” he referred derisively to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Referencing the moniker Schumer uses when addressing Jewish groups, Rabbi Billet pointed out that “the ‘shomer Yisroel’ has been pretty quiet in Washington.”
“Too many people have been quiet,” Rabbi Billet continued.
“Last year, Rabbi [Kenneth] Hain [of Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence] and I participated in a peaceful march commemorating the killing of George Floyd. But I’m wondering where are all the politicians who spoke up about the killing of George Floyd, where are they now when we speak about anti-Semitism against Jews.”
Far Rockaway City Council member Selvena Brooks-Powers was anything but silent when she addressed the rally.
“I represent one of the most vibrant, resilient and active Jewish communities in all of New York city,” she boomed.
A local victim of a physical anti-Semitic attack, Lawrence native Joseph Borgen, a Manhattan resident, was cheered by the crowd. Borgen was wearing a kipah when he was attacked in midtown Manhattan on May 20, allegedly by pro-Palestinian men, two of whom were arrested.
“The main thing that’s on my mind is that the individuals who attacked me, they’re still out there. They’ve said they want to hurt me again. They can come after me again.
“I can’t go back to my apartment and rest easy or walk my dog at night. They’re walking the streets. No one should be afraid to leave their house.”
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said her goal is to keep people safe.
“We are truly in this together,” Curran said, adding a quote from Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, “We got you. We got you.”
“I will fight against anti-Semitism, I will fight against comments by politicians in Congress whether they’re Republicans who say mask wearing is like the Holocaust or they’re Democrats who say Israel is a terrorist organization,” said North Shore Rep. Thomas Suozzi.
He recalled his father saying that “you can’t have a rose without the thorns.”
“Well, we’ve had enough thorns, we’ve had enough suffering,” Suozzi concluded.
The rally was organized by Michael Cohen of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in conjunction with Rabbi Axelrod and community groups in the Five Towns and Long Island.