The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations held a meeting in New York on Tuesday to address what steps need to be taken following the massacre at a Pittsburgh congregation last Shabbos.
Attendees at the meeting, including 70 leaders of American Jewish organizations, as well as Knesset Diaspora Minister Naftali Bennett, discussed ways to increase security at Jewish institutions and combat anti-Semitism and bigotry of all forms.
“What worries us is that we have no cure for this cancer, but we can try to isolate it,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference, in comments to the media following the meeting. “We can, working together, shine the light of attention on it and hope that we can at least excise the most serious tumors and sources.
“The problem today is the internet, which enables people to reach large audiences in ways that are unidentifiable. And even if you shut them down, ten more sites appear. So we have to work with the companies, we have to work with legislation, we have to find ways to counter the spread of hate, the big lies on the internet.”
Hoenlein, who visited Pittsburgh on Sunday, said that seeing every elected official and religious leader coming together in support of the victims is “a sign of hope in a moment of darkness.”
“A unified community, standing against these forces is perhaps our strongest weapon in dealing with them long-term,” he said.
In response to some political and other figures saying they did not wish to meet with President Trump in Pittsburgh due to his harsh rhetoric about political opponents, Hoenlein said, “I don’t think it’s a time to play partisan politics. It‘s a time when we should come together and heal the wounds of the people in Pittsburgh … and then to spread the message across America: Zero tolerance for intolerance.”
Hoenlein believes that governments must step up with increased security funding for Jewish institutions. While it may not be possible for have a guard in front of every small synagogue, he said that at least funding can be increased to provide for basic security needs such as cameras. Moreover, he said, it may be necessary for institutions and their members to pitch in more on that front. For example, each school may ask every parent to stand guard in front of the school for one day each year. Even a mother or father, without weapons, would act as a deterrent, he said, as “they know who belongs and doesn’t belong,” and can stand with a camera, taking photos of suspicious characters and alerting police when necessary.
Hoenlein also advocated for increased education in schools about bigotry and racism, and courses on the Holocaust. He suggested that it would be useful to use celebrities that children admire for this purpose.
Hoenlein said that even in these troubling times, he also sees hope, in that Americans of all faiths are joining, bringing flowers and joining vigils, mourning this tragedy.
“This is a message of who Americans really are … how we can come together.”
The Conference is rolling out the slogan “We Must Be One” in response to the tragedy.
We have to “bring everyone together,” said Hoenlein. “Our strength is in our unity.”