Thousands of people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday in a show of solidarity with the Jewish community, which has recently endured a spate of attacks in the city and beyond.
The event began in Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, where New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke to the crowd of over 20,000 people who had assembled at 11:00 on a cold and windy Sunday morning for the “No Hate, No Fear” rally.
Cuomo said the show of support for the Jewish community was “New York at her best.”
“What has happened in Brooklyn, what has happened in Monsey, New York,” said the governor, referring to recent anti-Semitic assaults, “was an attack on every New Yorker. And every New Yorker has felt the pain. Discrimination, racism, anti-Semitism is repugnant to every value that every New Yorker holds dear. And it’s repugnant to every value that this country represents. Racism and anti-Semitism is anti-American.”
The event was sponsored by the UJA Federation, Jewish Community Relations Council, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and New York Board of Rabbis, with many other groups joining as co-sponsors.
Since the start of Chanukah, there have been around a dozen assaults or threats against Orthodox Jews in New York City, mostly in Brooklyn, as well as the highly publicized incident in which man burst into a Chanukah celebration in Monsey and stabbed five people with a machete, leaving one in critical condition. These came three weeks after the deadly shooting attack on a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, and within 15 months of deadly shootings at Jewish congregations in Pittsburgh and Poway, California.
Hate crimes overall in New York City rose around 20 percent in 2019 from the previous year, with anti-Semitic incidents comprising more than all other hate crimes combined.
“While we’re here today in the spirit of solidarity and love,” said the governor, “government must do more than just offer thoughts and prayers. Government must act.”
To that end, Cuomo proposed a new law “that calls this hate what it is — it is domestic terrorism. These are terrorists and they should be punished as such.” He also announced the creation of a new tipline,1-877-NO-HATE-NY, for people to report or thwart hate crimes. And he said that the state will make available an additional $45 million for security at private schools and religious institutions.
But Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein challenged Cuomo’s announcement about the funding allocation. “Fool me once …” tweeted Eichenstein. “@NYGovCuomo announced this same funding over and over as if it’s new. This is the same $45 million that we passed in the budget last year. We need additional security funding for schools and houses of worship.”
Eichenstein later told Hamodia, “I find it insulting that the governor repeatedly passes off budget bills passed nearly a year ago by the Legislature as new measures to combat anti-Semitism only when it’s in the headlines.”
Following Cuomo’s remarks, the crowd began a march over the Brooklyn Bridge, joined by elected officials including Cuomo, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Max Rose, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, New York Attorney General Letitia James and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.
“There’s been too much hate in this city and in this country in the last couple of years, much of it directed [at] the Jewish community,” New York state Sen. John Liu told Hamodia as he walked across the bridge. “That is intolerable and unacceptable, and we are making a very strong statement of unity and solidarity here with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
The New York Police Department and New York State troopers have been deploying extra forces in Jewish neighborhoods since the Monsey attacks. Asked during the march how long the police will deploy the extra forces, NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan told Hamodia, “We’re going to continue it as necessary.”
Following the march, the crowd, comprising Jews from across the religious and political spectrum, as well as non-Jews, in solidarity, gathered for a rally at Cadman Plaza Park.
“Everybody has a responsibility today to counter this disease” of anti-Semitism, declared Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Political leaders, clergy, educators, academics, entertainers, internet companies, judges and prosecutors.”
Some elected officials have criticized New York’s bail reforms, particularly after several people who committed attacks on Jews and Jewish locations over Chanukah were immediately released without bail and re-offended.
In an interview during the rally, Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez – who has generally championed a more lenient justice system, and whose website proudly describes his office as “a national model of what a progressive prosecutor’s office can be” – told Hamodia that he opposes bail reforms that remove judges’ discretion.
“One of the most important functions that we have,” said Gonzalez, “is to make sure that our community is safe, but [that] we also have confidence in our justice system. And what’s happening now is that people don’t think the justice system is going to keep them safe.”
“I’ve always been in favor of giving judges discretion in how … you keep communities safe,” Gonzalez said. “One of the problems with our current law is that all discretion has been taken away from judges.”
The rally featured speakers from various faiths, all delivering a similar message.
“When there’s an attack on you,” said Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, “there’s an attack on all of us.”
Chaskel Bennett, an activist who co-founded the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition, spoke as a representative of the ultra-Orthodox community, which has been the primary victim of the recent spate of attacks.
“This violence didn’t begin in a vacuum,” declared Bennett. “It is the product and outgrowth of years of unchecked bias, prejudice and misunderstanding.”
Bennett said that attacks on the yeshivah curriculum “sow the seeds of hatred and animosity towards Chassidim and the larger Orthodox world.”
“This is an organized effort to devaluate this vital educational system by a vocal minority who are here today, professing to care about anti-Semitic prejudice,” said Bennett. “Their efforts are as dangerous to the safety and well-being of my community as the threats we are rallying against here today.”
“Jews in America have always lived in a tolerant and welcoming society,” Bennett concluded. “It is our hope and fervent prayer to the Al-mighty that we work together toward shared goals and combat hateful bigotry and intolerance of all people.”
Updated Sunday, January 5, 2020 at 7:31 pm .