Friday, January 21, 2022

A statement after the Colleyville synagogue attack

GMW Federation Solidarity Gathering before Shabbat, January 21, 2022

We know why Malik Faisal Akram attacked Beth Israel in Colleyville Texas.  He believed in Antisemitism.  He believed that Jews are a conspiracy that is behind everything he thought was wrong in the world.  He believed that pointing a gun at a rabbi, and making him call a more prominent rabbi - would pull the strings of a hidden conspiracy to free a woman who shared his conspiracy theories about Jews.  And he is not alone.

Moderate voices of hate empower radical voices of hate.  Since we truly believe in democracy, justice and equity, we will have political differences, and we must oppose political and economic injustices as we see them.  But, when any person blames an entire group of people, whether a race, a culture, or a religion, for the political, economic or social situation that they hate, then they transfer that hate to all members of that group. It is lazy, stupid and inevitably violent.

That is how all hatred, bigotry and prejudice works.  The racist might blame black people for crime.  The islamophobe will name Islam terrorism.  The homophobe will slur gay, lesbian, transgender or non-conforming individuals as pederasts or deviants.  And the antisemite will blame the Jews for anything and everything.

Hatred is self-affirming.  It requires no logic or facts.  The capitalist antisemite calls Jews communists.  The Communist antisemite calls Jews bankers.  The counter cultural antisemite says Jews control hollywood.    The QAnon antisemite thinks Jews run a deep state conspiracy in the American government. The white supremcist and xenophobic antisemite says Jews are seeking to destroy this country and the white race by supporting immigration.  The antizionist antisemite accuses Jews of hating muslims, Palestinians and Arabs and accuses Jews of attempted genocide. The Al Qaeda antisemite thinks Jews control the American military. 

The attacker in Colleyville was an Antisemite.  The attack was on Jews and a peaceful house of worship.  Not because he was insane, but because he was a believer.  He had read and believed the voices of hate who turn their political anger into Jew hatred.  He joined the long line of bombers, shooters, and haters who have maintained this Antisemitic cancer and polluted society after society for hundreds of years. Pittsburgh.  Poway. Colleyville. Charleston.  El Paso. Christchurch.  They know each other’s work.  They quote each other’s conspiracies.  They hate in common cause. And the Jew is central to each of their fantasies.

Scapegoating people to demonize, dehumanize and destroy their dignity denies the image of God that lives within each of us.  When will we finally admit that anyone who holds hatred in their heart and mind will eventually hold a gun in their hand or embolden another to do so.

Every one of us must be on guard.  We must be on guard not only against those who drew swastikas at my synagogue last month or who attacked Beth Israel last week. We must be on guard, whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew, against the grouping, the stereotyping, the building of  narratives of evil that drive fantasies of hate.  And every one of us must call it out in our own communities whenever and wherever we see it.  Listen. Explore. Dialogue. Understand. Improve. Maybe even Love. And in all things, refuse to empower hate.

Hatred is on the rise.  Antisemitism is on the rise. The attacks are increasing.  The world is a dangerous place, but if we can join together like this in common cause to oppose hate - we can face it unafraid.

In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Batslav, the world is a very narrow bridge, and it is essential not to be afraid.  That message of assurance and hope was in the hearts and minds of all peoples of peace in this country, in Israel and the world, and it is presented to us today by the IDF Education Corps’ to encourage us to not be afraid.  It is essential to not give in to fear.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Swastikas at my Synagogue - With an Image of the Offender

Brazen and full of hate, they acted like what they were doing was the most normal thing in the world.

On Saturday morning, December 18, an individual of adult height and slightly heavy build, wearing a black and white motorcycle jacket, dark pants, a helmet with a full face guard and riding a red sport motorcycle calmly pulled up and parked at the SW corner of our property.  

Have you Seen this Hate Crime Offender?  

Please Call the West Orange Police:  (973) 325-4000

Probably a Kawasaki Ninja with an SC tailpipe
Or a Suzuki GSX
(taken approximately 9 a.m., 
Saturday, December 18, 2021 
in front of Bnai Shalom)

They put on their hazards and walked deliberately to the sidewalk.  They then spent about 30 seconds scrawling a swastika on the wet sidewalk, mounted the motorcycle and drove up to the corner.  Turning, they parked again, put on their hazards and walked directly back about 15 feet to the NW corner of our property and scrawled again on the sidewalk.  Finally, they rode the motorcycle up the side street, again to the NE corner of our property, and once again put a swastika in chalk on the pathway.  The individual did not hesitate or look around.  They did not drive by, stop at the sign, look at the building or do anything else indicating any in-the-moment planning.  They knew exactly where they were, deliberately marking the corners of our property one after the other. It was plan-fully executed in broad daylight.

The police were called about 4 hours later, after joggers had noticed the symbols and scuffed 2 of the 3 of them.  The police responded perfectly, searched our property and other synagogues in town, and called the Department of Public works to efface the offending Nazi symbol.  Over the next day, Mayor Parisi, the town council, our Human Relations Commission, Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill, and Assemblyman John McKeon all reached out and made clear statements of condemnation of the hateful act and support of our community.  Rabbis asserted that this is a wonderful place to live, and my community had to get our heads around being targeted by a hate crime.  Today we were in the Star Ledger, and 1010 wins radio.

Online several people - perhaps being hopeful and optimistic, perhaps being naive - suggested that this is probably "just kids" or in some way not what it obviously is to all reasonable people.  One seriously called into question the idea that this could involve white supremacy.  To jump to the conclusion that a swastika is NOT a symbol of white supremacy without any other information is truly misguided, and serves only to protect the hater.  With a swastika it is guilty until proven innocent, because it means something.

Let's take a different example.  If someone were to hang a noose from a tree branch in front of an historically Black church, would anyone in their right mind say "It's just a rope.  How do you know what it means?  It could just be kids fooling around."  No, a noose in front of a Black church evokes racism, lynching, and - yes - white supremacy.  

Here is the truth about swastikas:

The swastika is uniquely a symbol of Nazi ideology, which in turn has its core foundational hatred of Jews.  In that symbol and ideology they mass murdered 6,000,000 of my people, and waged a war of expansion that cost the lives of tens of millions more.  Our country waged a war against that symbol and no amount of spin will every take away the fact that it is an enemy ideology to anyone who truly believes in democracy, equality and diversity.  In this country the swastika is uniquely embraced by white supremacy as a rallying cry.  Yes, they also hate blacks, immigrants, and others.  But they especially hate Jews.  Others who have joined the growing bandwagon of antisemitism, often conflating criticism of Israel with Jew hatred, do not rally in numbers to Nazi symbols in this country.  They may use antizionism, social antisemitism, economic antisemitism, theological antisemitism or other forms of bias, but even they do not embrace the swastika.

The swastika is a symbol with only one meaning.

But the debate is over anyways.  I am pleased to say that we have seen the video footage.  Placing a swastika so deliberately at the 3 public corners of a synagogue's property is not an accident.  It is not the foolish act of a confused teenager.  When that symbol is placed in that way on that property it is hate.  It is an attack on Jews and Judaism, with the symbol of our mass murder and the hope for our extermination.  It is at the very least a statement of these ideas, and at worst a threat of further action.

Many have expressed the idea that we shouldn't make a big deal about this, claiming it will hurt our image as a town and frighten Jewish people away from living here. Respectfully, nothing is farther than the truth.  The affirmation of our WOPD, mayor, town council, local state and national representatives is nothing short of unanimous.  Our neighbors have spoken loudly in our defense, and even more loudly against the individual's actions.  Should we cower, hoping it is nothing, and quietly move on?  Appeasement has never turned out well for our people, especially against this particular hatred.

What could make the town more attractive to potential Jewish families than knowing that Hate has No Place Here?  It is tremendously encouraging to know that we are known, valued, loved and defended by our neighbors and our township.  The shared society is our greatest strength, and embracing it when it is our turn to be defended in the name of justice should be seen as a gift.  

No - I do not accept the stigma or the call for quiet.  If you can't stand up in public and clearly say the Nazi Swastika is a big deal, then you are on the wrong side of history and you are not doing everything you can to fight the clear and documented rise of antisemitism in this country.

We have a picture of the perpetrator.  It will be posted very publicly.  Somebody knows this yahoo.  They will be caught.

And then we will have to move on to the second step:  insisting on prosecution as a hate crime and bias intimidation.

If found, he/she will be arrested and charged.  The District Attorney will need to decide to bring charges.  Stay tuned.