Standing up to anti-Semitism

Community. Local office holders and community members take a stand against rising local anti-Semitic sentiment.

23 Dec 2019 | 01:59

In the wake of yet another violent act of anti-Semitism in the United States, local New Jersey officials and community members have once again spoken up about the need to combat rising anti-Semitic sentiment — both nationwide and in our own backyard.

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, two shooters targeted a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, in what officials are investigating as an act of domestic terrorism. This was the third deadly act of anti-Semitism in the United States in just the past two years. The firefight lasted about two hours, as schools around Jersey City were locked down, and about fifty children hid in the yeshiva (a religious school) next door to the market.

Five people were killed, including the attackers. Two police officers and one civilian were injured. The assailants also shot and killed a police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, in a nearby cemetery prior to the shooting at the kosher market.

Two days later, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5) spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives to condemn rising anti-Semitic sentiment both in New Jersey and across the country.

“I rise today because violent anti-Semitism continues to threaten our country, including in my home state of New Jersey,” Gottheimer said. “All Americans should be outraged when fellow citizens are targeted simply because of their religion. The Anti-Defamation League has reported that anti-Semitism remains at near-historic levels — with New Jersey ranked third in the nation last year.

We must stand together now — to denounce hate targeted at anyone and prevent more violence.”

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ11) echoed Gottheimer’s concerns in a Twitter post, writing, “It appears that the murders in Jersey City are a continuation of the growing anti-Semitism in our state. We must stand up against hate in all its forms.”

Gottheimer himself is no stranger to bigotry. During the lead up to the 2018 election, a Gottheimer campaign sign in the yard of a supporter was vandalized with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti. The supporter’s garage door was also spray-painted over with a large swastika.

In September of 2017, the Airport Diner in Wantage was similarly vandalized, with disturbing graffiti such as “Kill Jews” and “Heil Hitler” spray painted across the walls of the diner. Members of the community responded by raising over $3,000 to help repair the damages.

In March of this year, anti-Semitic graffiti was found at High Point Regional High School — just one item on a growing list of such incidents. Later this year in September, just before Rosh Hashanah, swastikas and anti-Semitic vandalism were found in multiple schools across northern NJ.

Disturbing recent arrests such as that of Michael Zaremski, a 26-year-old Green township resident found stockpiling weaponry along with white supremacist paraphernalia, have only further fueled fears in the Jewish community. Zaremski is accused, among other things, of expressing a desire to commit a mass-shooting inspired by the massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, in October 2018. The Pittsburgh shooting was the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in American history.

Zaremski was arrested on June 25 of this year. About a month later, Lafayette Township resident Joseph Rubino, 57, was charged with “unlawfully possessing an arsenal of weapons and ammunition” along with racist, white supremacist, and neo-Nazi propaganda, according to a statement by the Department of Justice. The two arrests are not believed to be related; nevertheless, security is an ever-increasing concern at synagogues in northern NJ and around the country.

“The natural response is to be frightened,” said Rabbi Mendel Dubov, of Chabad of Sussex County. “But the question is how we go forward. On a practical level, we have increased the security over the last year or so, with security personnel present during services.” Chabad of Sussex County has also collaborated closely with the Sparta Police Department over the years to ensure that members of their congregation feel safer attending services.

Increased budgeting for security, Dubov said, “has unfortunately become a need...the more we do, the better. There are examples of other places that had increased security and very unfortunate incidents were stopped because of it.”

However, Dubov said that acts of terror such as the Jersey City shooting naturally raise concerns that go beyond synagogue security, leading members of the Jewish community to wonder if it’s “safe to be Jewish in public.”

“That is the greatest victory for terror,” Dubov said. “That’s what terror wants to do: to make us frightened and to not allow us to show who we are, to display the differences that make us human... To not be who we are is to run against human nature in the most terrible of ways. It is not only a question of defiance; it is a question of going on with life in spite of someone wanting to destroy that life.

That is victory, that is prevailing – accomplishing precisely what the haters want to see destroyed.”

Though it can difficult to overcome understandable fears about safety, Dubov said he tries to encourage people not to “let these events dampen our spirit.”

“We try to focus on the positive,” he said. “Life is positive, life is good, there’s a God in the world. We counter things of evil nature with holiness and with goodness. [...] Battles are not won with increased weaponry; they are won with increased morale. When you have that you can win anything. That’s really the story of Chanukah... we like to try to emulate that.”

Chabad of Sussex County held its annual Chanukah event at Sparta Lanes on Dec. 25 at 4 p.m., with games, food, music, and a special menorah lighting.

“It is our differences, and the way each of us display our own beliefs and culture and our human selves, that make us human,” said Dubov. “That’s what makes us great. The victory over such acts of terror is the public display of being proud of being Jewish.”