The Day of Action Against Antisemitism was one of solidarity as elected and religious leaders of many faiths, as well as entertainers and writers, joined to condemn antisemitism in all its forms in powerful language and through government action.
Opening with a montage of news coverage of antisemitic attacks in cities across the country and Europe with the words “Antisemitism is on the rise,” the opening speaker was Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America.
“We join together today in prayer and in action against antisemitism,” Hauer said in his opening prayer. “These past weeks have brought terrible events and very unsettling events for the Jewish community. It is a time for action. It is time for all of us to stand up against antisemitism, to call upon others to end this hatred and to stand firm against any form of it.”
Melissa Weiss, managing editor of Jewish Insider, moderated the event, which included about 30 speakers from around the country lending their voice to call for a stop to antisemitism and hatred.
The event represented collaboration among the American Jewish Committee; Hadassah, WZOA, Inc.; Jewish Federations of North America; the Orthodox Union; Reconstructing Judaism; Union for Reform Judaism; United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Anti-Defamation League.
During the two weeks of military conflict between Israel and Hamas last month, antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reported to ADL increased by 75% compared to the two weeks before the fighting began, rising from 127 to 222 incidents, according to preliminary data the ADL reported in its May 24 blog. “Many of these incidents appear to have been perpetrated by individuals scapegoating American Jews for the actions of the Israeli government,” the blog read.
Some such incidents took place at the about 200 pro-Palestinian rallies across the country.
A couple from Cleveland Heights who were counter-protesting were targeted at a pro-Palestinian rally May 14 at Crocker Park in Westlake. Alec Popivker and his wife, Sarah Nurit Gammon Popivker, filed police reports with Westlake police after she was injured and his yarmulke was burned.
Jonathan Greenblatt, president and CEO of the ADL, called the worldwide attacks “brazen and brutal, affecting our family members and friends, our colleagues and neighbors.
“… This isn’t just a Jewish concern,” Greenblatt said. “It is a violation of all we hold sacred as Americans.”
He called for those on the call to demand political leaders “take action against antisemitism and stop it in its tracks.”
Some 23,000 screens were logged on the live call.
Among the speakers were U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who all condemned the attacks.
“Friends, it’s urgent we come together in this moment,” said Schumer, the first Jewish Senate minority leader. “We were all horrified by the antisemitic attacks in New York, around the country and the world.”
Weiss spoke of recently passed laws that address antisemitism: the nonprofit security grant program, the No Hate Act and the Never Again Education Act.
“Be sure to click ‘demand action’ on actagainstantisemitism.org to call on your members of Congress to take action and to stop antisemitism,” Weiss said, calling for people to seek support for the bipartisan Lankford Rosen resolution and the Deutch Meng Fitzpatrick letter, which urge President Joe Biden to take action against antisemitic violence and hate crimes.
U.S. Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-New York, who identified herself as the first former synagogue president in the Senate, spoke of the rise in antisemitism in recent years and weeks.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen neo-Nazis marching through the streets,” said Rosen, who founded the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Antisemitism. “We’ve seen synagogues attacked and we’ve seen Jews in the act of prayer who have had their lives taken from us.”
She added there have been, “attacks on Jewish places of business, attacks on Jewish community members, foreign leaders invoking antisemitic slander and conspiracies, and elected officials, right here at home diminishing the horrors that Jews endured during the Holocaust. We have a responsibility to fight back against this antisemitic bigotry.”
She called for the nomination of an ambassador to fight antisemitism, for the full implementation of the Never Again Education Act, which will provide Holocaust education in public schools, and for “enough funding” to protect Jewish institutions for the nonprofit security grant program.
Muslim imams and leaders, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and ministers in leadership positions of their faiths were among those speaking out.
Cedric Richmond, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, spoke on behalf of Biden.
“Antisemitism is an assault on our humanity,” Richmond said. “Make no mistake: Hate harms us all.”
Speaking from Tel Aviv, where he responded in solidarity with Israel after rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, David Harris, CEO of AJC, spoke of the need for unity.
“We Jews must be swivel-headed,” he said. “We have threats coming from many directions and in many forms.”
Hadassah President Rhoda Smolow spoke of her commitment to Israel as well.
“We are no strangers to antisemitism nor naive about the perils of hatred, but what for decades lurked in the shadows is spilling out into the mainstream,” she said. “Social media is polluted with antisemitism, anti-Zionism and white supremacist groups, who use it to recruit and inspire violence. Our friends and family in Israel have been subjected to rocket fire for 19 years by terrorists driven to kill Jews because they reject the presence of Jews in the Jewish homeland.”
Mark Wilf, board chair of the JFNA, said the surge of antisemitic incidents has shocked Jews all over the world. He thanked the allies who joined the event.
“Having grown up in a family of Holocaust survivors, I know too well the ability for this hate to fester and put the lives of Jewish people in immediate danger,” Wilf said. “It’s important for everyone to understand that antisemitism is not a historical artifact. It’s something that’s happening around us all day today.”
Rabbi Deborah Waxman, president of Reconstructing Judaism, spoke of the need to fight antisemitism and hate, and to create a world in which “all of us are treated with respect, a world where all of us are seen as beings created in G-d’s image.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the URJ, said violence against Jews “must be condemned, never rationalized.” He differentiated criticism of Israeli policy from antisemitic acts.
“We are an incredibly diverse Jewish community, and we pray, think, believe, earn and vote differently,” he said. “When it comes to violent antisemitic attacks against our people, we stand as one.”
Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly, quoted Moses speaking to Joshua in the Torah.
“Be strong and of good courage,” Blumenthal said in closing. “We are full of courage knowing that our allies stand with us. … Let us be strong and full of courage. Shalom.”