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Queens Chronicle

'Now's the time for Jewish pride': rabbi

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Posted: Monday, January 13, 2020 4:05 pm

In the wake of anti-Semitic attacks, including at least six on Jewish citizens in the city during Chanukah, community members rallied at MacDonald Park in Forest Hills Sunday to call for an end to them.

Cynthia Zalisky, a child of Holocaust survivors and the executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, said her grandfather’s reaction to rising anti-Semitism was “Everything will blow over.” He died at Dachau.

“We cannot let this kind of hate permeate in our borough,” she said. “It’s like a little rip in the pants. If we don’t sew it, it will be completely ruined.”

Rabbi Mark Kaiserman, of the Reform Temple of Forest Hills, said it’s time to take a stand but asked what kind of a stand would be taken by those in the audience.

“Will you stand down, hiding away from the world in fear? Will you stand aside, keeping your voice silent and in apathy, letting hatred dominate the day? Will you stand off, distancing yourself from people in need because they aren’t exactly like you? That is not how we will stand,” he said.

“It is our task to defend and support each other,” Kaiserman said. “We stand up with each other.”

David Aronov, co-founder of The Bukharian Jewish Union, spoke about the fact that attacks were happening in the city.

“Never did I imagine that in a modern and accepting society that I would be speaking to denounce anti-Semitism in New York City, the most diverse place in the world,” he said.

The area has seen a number of rallies battling prejudice over the last year and a half. In October 2018, a candlelight prayer vigil was held outside Borough Hall after 11 people were killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue and two African Americans were killed in a Kentucky supermarket. In February 2019, the Bukharian Jewish Community Center in Forest Hills hosted a rally against hate. A volunteer at a soup kitchen was honored for breaking up the beating of a Bukharian teenager, who had been attacked by Forest Hills High School students. Weeks later, anti-Semitic graffiti was displayed on the playground at PS 139 in Rego Park.

One month later, another rally was held at Borough Hall in the wake of the massacre of 50 Muslims worshiping at two mosques in New Zealand.

“We are a borough of faith and family and respect for all people,” said Ethan Felder, a union labor lawyer who helped organize Sunday’s event.

Felder, who described himself as a “proud Jew, a proud New Yorker and a proud American,” quoted George Washington: “The United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

He also encouraged communication.

“We must engage one another for we are all in this together,” Felder said.

Rabbi Eli Blokh of Chabad of Rego Park said he’s been asked a lot recently if he’s afraid. He said he is not and encouraged residents to wear their yarmulkes in schools, on subways and in the street.

“Now’s not the time to hide,” Blokh said. “Now’s the time for Jewish pride.”

He left Russia with his family 40 years ago and has lived in Rego Park for 22. “The main reason we came to America is because America guarantees every citizen the right to worship and openly identify their religion in any way they wish,” Bolkh said.

Jeff Kohn, another organizer of Sunday’s rally, said how Nazis burned down his grandfather’s shul and his parents’ business. His grandfather, one of 10 children, fled with two older siblings to France.

“This too shall pass,” he was told but he would never see his parents again.

But, Kohn said, anti-Semitic enemies “have not and will never extinguish the eternal flame of the Jewish people. We refuse to go quietly into the night. They will never silence me. And they will never silence us.”

There were 234 hate crimes motivated by anti-Semitism in the city in 2019, accounting for 55 percent of the recorded hate crimes. That marked a 26 percent increase from 2018. A pair of attacks outside the city in December also brought attention to the issue. On Dec. 11, an attack on a kosher deli and a nearby cemetery in Jersey City killed four victims. On Dec. 29, multiple people were stabbed while praying inside a Rockland County synagogue.

Adela Cojab Moadeb, a Syrian-Lebanese Jew born in Mexico City who moved to the United States in 2001, spoke of biased behavior she has witnessed at NYU.

“I was shocked to see that being Jewish made me different and being Jewish made me a target,” she said.

Incidents include a physical assault against a female freshman and a student burning an Israeli flag and throwing it on the ground. She said the NYPD arrested two students in another incident, while students cheered on assailants.

But Cojab Moadeb found a positive element Sunday, noting how the community came together for the rally.

“We’re here because we’re all residents of New York City,” she said. “We’re neighbors. And we should never have to gather here, not against anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred but may this group of people here today be a testament to our strength and our diversity, to the fact that we are ready to stand up for each other.”

In addition to Jewish leaders, representatives of other faiths spoke at the rally.

“Any act of hatred or anti-Semitism against one person is an act against all of us,” said Bishop Paul Sanchez of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Forest Hills.

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