In opening the Safety and Security Summit on Sunday, January 12, at the Bergen Academies, Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) President Roberta Abrams led the assembled in a moment of silence in memory of the victims of Jersey City and Monsey. A video followed with graphic scenes of the recent attacks as well as those of the past year. Thus the stage was set for the addresses by a united cadre of government officials who came together to declare a heads-on attack on the spate of anti-Semitism sickening our state and the entire country.
Senator Cory Booker’s affirmation that “hate has no place in our state” was followed by the determination not to allow shelter to those who wish to divide us. “Hate grows quickly like a toxin. All manifestations of hate must be met quickly and resolutely. We all share interwoven destinies in one garment.”
Senator Robert Menendez, who has historically stood with our community through thick and thin, cited the troubling ADL statistic that New Jersey boasts the third-highest number of hate crimes committed in the nation. “We must combat this scourge by denouncing neo-Nazis, censuring technology that encourages anti-Semitism and identifying and eliminating radical fringe groups.” As the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, Menendez meets with many heads of state, from Paris to Jerusalem, and never fails to challenge them about what they are doing to combat anti-Semitism. At home, he is a sponsor of the Bias Crime Law, newly approved, which allows zero tolerance for acts of hate and is promoting more reforms by the state and federal governments in combating hatred. Menendez concluded with, “All of us can practice tikkun olam.”
Congressman Josh Gottheimer, representing the 5th Congressional District in New Jersey, reinforced Senator Menendez’s ominous statistic by citing that in 2018 alone there were 1,800 anti-Semitic hate crimes committed in the U.S., a tremendous increase from previous years. In his efforts to combat this “hate, which has no place in our state,” Gottheimer is working closely with Homeland Security to obtain grants for nonprofits including private schools, synagogues, churches and mosques, and community centers for training in how to prevent and combat vicious attacks. “It will not happen overnight but we must be united in our efforts to never let hate win in our no-hate state.”
Congressman Bill Pascall Jr., who represents the 9th Congressional District, opened by quoting Isaiah 6:8. When God asks who will go to warn the people, Isaiah stands up and declares, “Send me!” That should become the rallying call that unites us all in our war against senseless hatred.
“Domestic terrorism must be addressed fearlessly. We must recognize assaults on others as assaults upon us. A crime committed against a Jew is a crime against me.”
Congressman Albio Sires, representing the 8th Congressional District, immigrated to this country at age 11 and personally experienced bullying and discrimination as a Hispanic youngster. He vowed to work alongside the other 11 Democrats in the New Jersey Congress to help eradicate hatred. “We will work hard to pass multiple legislative bills to make you safer and more secure in your communities.”
Congressman Donald Payne Jr., representing the 10th Congressional District, praised the efforts of Jason Shames, CEO of JFNNJ, in organizing the Safety Summit. As a son of Newark’s South Ward where his family has lived for 60 years, he is fully aware of the spate of hate crimes afflicting our state and country. He is actively promoting the Domestic Joint Terrorism Data Act, which shares data about combatting domestic terror. He praised the 12-man New Jersey delegation to the House of Representatives for being united in the best interests of their constituents. Payne, who paid a shiva call to the family of Mindy Ferencz in Jersey City, concluded, “Violence and hatred have no place in the U.S. Nobody should have to live in fear.”
New Jersey Assemblyman Gary Schaer, representing both Passaic and Bergen Counties, cited the most recent bi-partisan legislative initiatives in fighting terrorism that resulted in an additional $1 million allotment. Furthermore, from the initial $25 per child security grant issued in 2015, the allotment currently is $150 per child. Efforts are underway to increase the budget for target hardening from $2 million to $10 million. Schaer praised Governor Murphy for his attention to the 5,000-year-old problem of anti-Semitism and for the extraordinary security detail he provided for the Siyum HaShas at MetLife Stadium.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal expressed his gratitude to JFNNJ for hosting this vital gathering. He went on to share a moving story about visiting the site of the horrific Jersey City attack. Accompanied by Police Captain Pat Callahan, he noticed little faces peeking out from the windows of the yeshiva adjacent to the targeted grocery store. Grewal and Callahan decided to pay a visit to the youngsters in the yeshiva. As they entered the room, these young boys stood up and spontaneously began clapping for the police who had no doubt protected them from what could have been an even greater tragedy. Grewal praised Detective Seales who lost his life in the attack as being the hero who prevented the yeshiva and the public elementary school across the street from being targeted.
Working within the theme of “Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever,” the attorney general urged law enforcement to call out hateful language as anti-Semitism, to issue stricter sentences for up to 25 years for perpetrators, to insist on mandatory study of the Holocaust in school curricula, and to curb hateful groups from social media. “We must follow the lead of Nelson Mandela in substituting love for hate.”
Bergen County Prosecutor Mark Musella laid out concrete steps being taken by law enforcement in Bergen County to counter attacks. These include a implementing a regional SWAT team, increasing patrol vehicles and their hours of patrol, placing Rapid Deployment teams at large events, malls and shopping centers, increasing security assessments at institutions throughout Bergen County so that they can qualify for security grants, beefing up counter terrorism cyber intelligence to share with local, state and federal bureaus, and by implementing youth bias task forces. He urged local residents to be the eyes and ears of their communities and to call the local police if they see anything suspicious.
Native Israeli Vered Adoni who serves as the assistant prosecutor for Bergen County and has been a member of the bias unit for 10 years, sees a problem when we do not label incidents as bias crimes. She urges the identification of these crimes by local police and holding the perpetrators fully accountable. Anthony Cureton, Bergen County sheriff, who was active in the investigations into anti-Semitic hate crimes in Mahwah and Rutherford, urged the community to take an active role in social justice by being vigilant and reporting hate crimes as they happen.
The final speaker, Jerry Dargan, comes from a 26-year career in law enforcement and now serves as the director of Jewish Community Security for the JFNNJ. His three-fold objective in this position is to liaison with law enforcement, be a resource for synagogues and institutions and provide training and education. In securing resources for synagogues and institutions he has brought in funds for target hardening, which provides barricades, alarms and panic buttons to buildings. He has arranged for risk vulnerability assessments to secure security grants through FEMA and Homeland Security. Toward training and education, Dargan has arranged for active shooter training at 35 synagogues, cyber security training, and SWAT team training among other programs in the hope of providing an effective “Iron Dome” for the community.
Jason Shames closed the summit by thanking all of our committed government officials for taking time out to reassure us of their cognizance of the proliferation of anti-Semitism in our neighboring communities and their determination to target the perpetrators and rid us of this deadly hatred. Upon exiting the auditorium, cards were distributed announcing upcoming training events to be held by JFNNJ and resources in security assessment and consultation, grants and training programs and legislative advocacy.
For further information about upcoming programs of JFNNJ in combatting anti-Semitism, visit www.jfnnj.org/security or call 201-820-3900.
By Pearl Markovitz