STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. Elected officials, Jewish community leaders and members of the NYPD were joined by over 150 borough residents Sunday night at the Lew Stolzenberg Social Hall inside of the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Sea View to discuss ongoing security concerns amid a rise of anti-Semitic and hate crime attacks across New York City.
Community questions and in-progress security measures took center stage at the meeting, which was organized by the Council of Jewish Organizations (COJO) on Staten Island. Many in attendance voiced fears about the increased frequency of acts of anti-Semitism, from swastikas drawn in public spaces, to attacks that threaten the community. One even suggested every New Yorker get a bulletproof vest equating how the Israeli government gave free gas masks to its citizens during the US-Iraq war.
“I’m basically here just to see what action is being taken against anti-Semitism, which seems to be almost a daily occurrence,” said Alan Smith, a Willowbrook native.
Smith said that the prevalence of anti-Semitism rhetoric and actions has “become almost like a cancerous type of thing.”
“And once cancer gets a hold of something,” Smith said, “it festers.”
Gary, a Willowbrook native who did not wish to have his last name printed, echoed those sentiments, saying there is an “uneasiness” among the Jewish community as a result of the “very scary reality that there is open anti-Semitism being displayed in New York and New Jersey.
For Betsy Wilson, 75, a frequent attendee of the JCC, her fears are fundamental.
Wilson expressed concern about the frightening prospect of active shooters in her public spaces, specifically the JCC. “We have no clue what we’re supposed to do,” she said.
“For me and my friends, we’re older,” Wilson said, “We’re not going to be able to run too fast.”
The timing of the security meeting was significant, as Jan. 25 — less than two weeks from the date of the gathering — will mark 75 years since the liberation of the concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The anniversary comes in the wake of a pair of anti-Semitic attacks separated by only three weeks in New York and New Jersey, which targeted Jewish civilians, and amid a 21% spike of anti-Semitic incidents overall in New York City, NYPD data shows.
The troubling connection between an uptick of anti-Semitic incidents three-quarters of a century after the Holocaust was not lost on Isreal Nitzan, the deputy consul general of Israel, who attended the event.
“It’s very difficult to believe that 75 years after the holocaust we have to deal with Jewish casualties, rising anti-Semitism,” he said.
During the invocation to the meeting, Rabbi Pinchas Pearl said, “In recent weeks, the Jewish community does not know peace.”
In December, an attack targeting Jewish people left a veteran police officer and three people dead inside of a Kosher Market in Jersey City. Less than three weeks later, a man allegedly stabbed five people in a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., on the seventh day of Hanukkah. Authorities said the man, who faces five attempted murder charges, among others, searched “Zionist temples of Staten Island” less than two weeks before the attack.
District Attorney Michael E. McMahon, who previously created a task force to combat hate crimes on Staten Island, struck a positive note in light of the considerable attendance of the event. Scott Maurer, the CEO and executive vice president of Council of Jewish Organizations, who is also the co-chairman of the aforementioned task force, emceed the gathering.
The DA related a story of going to Rabbi Dovid Feinstein and seeking his guidance on how to combat hate crimes towards the Jewish community.
“In hours of darkness and moments of hatred where evil shows its ugly face, it’s moments like these that are exhilarating and heartwarming,” McMahon said of the packed meeting room.
Congressman Max Rose condemned the aforementioned rise of anti-Semitic incidents, and also displayed anger that “people are afraid to speak Hebrew in public, afraid to observe their religion … here in New York City.”
Rose, who recently urged Staten Island at-risk institutions, like synagogues, churches, and mosques, to apply for part of a $90 million grant and also stood beside President Donald Trump when he signed an executive order combating anti-Semitism on college campuses, said: “Now is not a time for partisanship.”
“We can’t think about politics when we’re addressing [anti-Semitism],” Rose said, “We have got to secure our communities.”
“No one in New York City should be afraid when they are praying,” Rose said.
Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, the NYPD’s borough commander, said that the department stands “committed to ensuring the safety of every community in Staten Island.”
“That’s not just something we say,” Corey said, “it’s something we practice.”
The NYPD recently announced that it would add hate crimes to its publicly-available crime database — CompStat — for the first time since the stat-tracking site’s inception. Additionally, the NYPD unveiled the Racially and Ethnically Motivated Extremism — “REME” — unit, which is “focused on any trends and any signs of racially and ethnically motivated extremism,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said after the shooting in Jersey City.
Corey said that NYPD officers on Staten Island have increased their visible presence outside places of worship, but also called on the community to reach out to the NYPD in instances where they see suspicious activity.
“It’s better to call us and not need us than need us and not call us,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Palladino said that the district attorney’s office is especially dedicated to prosecuting hate crimes, saying that the office has a “strict no plea policy” in instances where a crime is motivated by hate.
“If you are going to target a victim based on their race, their ethnicity, their religion, their sexual orientation, their age, even, well then you are going to face further incriminations and you are going to be held accountable because you did bring that element of hate to the criminal transaction.”
Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who also spoke extensively about the perils of the recently-adopted bail reform law, said that education is essential for combating acts of anti-Semitism.
“I think it’s incredibly important that we educate the next generation about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” Malliotakis said.
“We have to ensure that every child — not only here in New York State — but across the country, gets the education about the history of these atrocities so they know what these words mean,” Malliotakis said — referring to the use of language like “nazi” and “racist,” particularly on social media.
On the Staten Island Ferry, a pair of intended hate symbols — a reversed swastika and SS bolts — were discovered on the Guy V. Molinari Staten Island Ferry on Jan. 6.
The meeting was also attended by Councilman Chaim Deutsch (D-Brooklyn), Councilman Steve Matteo (R-Mid-Island), Mendy Mirocznik, the president of the Council of Jewish Organizations of Staten Island, and representatives from the FDNY, the office of Borough President James Oddo, Councilman Joseph Borelli (R-South Shore), Senator Andrew Lanza (R-Staten Island), Councilman Michael Reilly (R-South Shore), and an assistant to Governor Andrew Cuomo, among other Island leaders.