Tuesday, February 18, 2020

(l-r) Mark Weitzman; Lisa Roberts (Mahopac), president, Westchester Jewish Council; Hindy Poupko; Arlene Kleinberg (New Rochelle), Cindy Golub (Mamaroneck), Westchester DA Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. (Credit: UJA Federation of New York)

Overflow attendance for UJA/WJC Anti-Semitism Forum at Temple Israel Center in White Plains. (Credit: UJA Federation of New York)

On January 8, over 800 attended “Anti-Semitism: What We Face and How We Fight It” hosted by White Plains’ Temple Israel Center and sponsored by UJA in collaboration with the Westchester Jewish Council.

Cindy Golub, UJA regional chair opened the event by saying, “When we initially planned this program, we hoped to have about maybe 100-150 people. Unfortunately, due to events lately, we have this great turnout. It is an unfortunate reason but I think we can all feel very good that we are part of a community together.”

Westchester County DA Anthony Scarpino, the first speaker, said, “Tonight we are here to discuss the rise in anti-Semitism across America, and here at home. Unfortunately, the topic has become all too timely in recent weeks, including vandalism of houses of worship in the borders of your town over this weekend and when congregants were celebrating Chanukah in a rabbi’s home. As the news broke of the attack in Monsey, I reached out to the WJC. My office is here to support and protect the people of Westchester. The Westchester Intelligence Center, a unit of my office, which we call the WIC, is staffed with analyst and criminal investigators. Year round, the WIC engages in hate-crime and hate-speech intelligence gathering in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, Homeland Security, NYPD and the New York State Police.” Scarpino continued, “We have mapped the locations of all Westchester houses of worship to allow law enforcement to act quickly under threats that may affect more than one location. Throughout the year, the intelligence center conducts awareness, threat assessment and security risk assessment briefings and trainings.”

Scarpino charged, “Creating a safer and more secure community is not something that the district attorney’s office and law enforcement can do alone. We need every one of you and every organization to do your part. If you see something, say something.”

Marc Weitzman, director of government affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, also presented. Weitzman is often asked if current events resemble 1933 Germany and if we are on the verge of having what happened there happen to us here. His response was a categorical no.

Weitzman then detailed his reasoning: “Anti-Semitism in the U.S. today no way resembles what happened then. We have no heritage in this country of state-sponsored, violent anti-Semitism. We have waves of violence, but it’s not officially state-sponsored, like pogroms, that permeated European history. Second, Jews have always been able to fight back against anti-Semitism. Third, anti-Semitism has always had to compete; it is not the only form of bigotry. We aren’t singled out as targeted in the US. Fourth, most Americans retain bitter memories of they or their ancestors [being] objects of prejudice or discrimination. Our country is a country of refugees. Fifth, there was never any formal state-sponsored religion or an established religion that dominated, ruled and controlled polices of the country. Sixth, American ideals enshrined in our founding documents aren’t compatible with anti-Semitism.”

Hindy Poupko, deputy chief planning officer at UJA Federation of New York was the final speaker. Poupko recalled, “On Sunday, our young son, who was with us, asked why did we march?” Poupko said she realized, “This is the first time that this generation is grappling with that question. So, why do people hate us?” She noted, “To White Supremacists, we are Globalists and Communists, who present as white but are never quite white enough. To the far left, we are called Capitalists and Colonialists, who are too white to be deserving of empathy. We are always the world’s ultimate other.”

Poupko continued, “There are many communities who feel completely afraid. One reason for the march last Sunday was to demonstrate that we are one community. We might look different, not all wear kippot or dress the same, but when a Jew is threatened or beaten up or murdered or worse, it is as if we are all threatened. The other part of the march was to demonstrate to our officials and the world that we are fed up. Frankly, people say, Hindy, how are you going to fix this? I say, it is not my job; it is the city’s job, and our country’s job. They have to figure out how to ensure that it is safe for us to live here.” Poupko emphasized, “What’s happening on the far left and the growing anti-Zionist movement is part of this environment. We look at the state of Israel and see a wonderful story, a symbol of a persecuted people finally getting self-determination of our ancestral homeland. The persistent vilification of the Jewish state contributes to an overall environment where demonization of Jews is normalized. It does, when you consistently call Israel a racist state.” She concluded, “The best response to anti-Semitism is showing up and being loud and being proud.”

By Judy Berger

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