25,000 protestors gathered in a sea of blue and white in Foley Square last Saturday, singing Hebrew songs and proudly raising posters reading “No Hate, No Fear” and “We Are All Neighbors” to protest the slew of recent anti-Semitic attacks in New York and the surrounding area. In the brisk midday air, elected officials, including Mayor Bill De Blasio and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, led the crowd across the Brooklyn Bridge and into Cadman Plaza to be addressed by politicians, writers, activists, and leaders.
According to a New York Times article, more than half of the 421 hate crimes reported in New York City in 2019 were directed at Jews. On Saturday, Dec. 28th, an intruder took a machete to the home of a Rabbi on the seventh night of Hanukkah, wounding five Hasidic Jews, and on Tuesday, Dec. 10, two shooters opened fire on a Hasidic deli in Jersey City, killing three civilians and two police officers. These are only two of the reported attacks, which are rising rapidly in numbers; anti-Semitic crimes in New York City alone have increased by 21 percent in 2019, The Washington Post said.
New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo spoke about the rising hatred in a news conference on Sunday, Dec. 29, the day after the stabbing. “If anyone thinks that something poisonous is not going on in this country, then they’re in denial,” he said. At the march, he announced that New York State would spend an additional $45 million for security at religious schools and institutions.
In response to the violent events, the United Jewish Association of New York (UJA) promptly organized a march to “[to] say no to hate and no to fear,” according to their website said. The UJA publicized the event through Facebook, creating a page for the event on Monday, Dec. 31st.
Justin Gurvitch (10) was disappointed in the lack of publicity. He did not see the Facebook post, but if he had, he would have attended the march, he said.
Oliver Keimweiss (12) believes that the minimal publicity was in part because the UJA planned the march within such a short time frame. “It was hard to get word out, and a lot of people already had other plans,” he said.
Keimweiss attended the march with his parents, younger sister, and brother, all of whom felt that attending was necessary, he said. While Keimweiss feels safe within the school community, the recent anti-Semitic attacks frightened him. “I think a lot of Jews in the area were scared. I think everyone felt that we had to do something, that we had to show we’re still together.”
The purpose of the march was not to accomplish one quantitative goal, so much as to show solidarity, Keimweiss said. “We had thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming together to say we stand together, we won’t back down. We’re not afraid.”
Reina McNutt (12) hoped that Jews who did not attend would hear the about the striking statistics of the march, and would realize that there is a caring Jewish community out there, she said.
English teacher Dr. Deborah Kassel felt obligated to attend. “I thought it was a moment in history and as a citizen of the world I feel it’s my job, even if I’m just a speck or drop of water, to stand up for what’s right and to understand a phenomenon that has emerged more acutely in the past couple of years than I ever could have imagined,” she said. “Just like my life as a teacher, there may be little things that I can do, but if I don’t do them, who am I?”
In support of the Jewish community and their fight against anti-Semitism, citizens of various backgrounds attended the march. Muslim marcher Karim Smiers held a sign that expressed his support for the Jewish community. “The common enemy here is hate,” he said. Smiers attended the march in part as a way to thank the Jewish community for combating Islamophobia and rallying at those marches.
Kassel said that the march brought Jews and citizens of other beliefs together. In particular, a woman with a sign reading “Make America Love Again” struck Kassel. “If you’re going to stand up for justice, it has to be justice all around,” she said. “Otherwise, you’re just creating another scapegoat.”
The diversity of the crowd was powerful, said Randy Klein fromof Harlem, a third-generation descendant of a Holocaust survivor who attended the rally. “If you think Jews are only watching other Jews, or only trans people are watching other trans people, or only women or watching women, you’re mistaken.”
Yana Gitelman (11) hoped that in the fight against anti-Semitism, the often politically split Jewish community, which she said is often split politically, could begin to unite, she said. Unfortunately, Gitelman didn’t feel this unity; during the four and a half hours she marched, she heard various groups having their own side conversations and an overall lack of group chants, she said. “The chants, for me, are the most unifying parts of march. I want to leave a march with no voice left, feeling like I said something.”
To show their support of the entire community, Gitelman and Liliana Greyf (10), who attended together, attempted to start a cheer of their own: “No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here.” Unfortunately, like most others, it didn’t last for long, Gitelman said.
At the march, chief executive officer of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York Eric Goldstein acknowledged the complexities of the Jewish community. “We need to recognize that despite differences we have, we’re here to show our solidarity with all Jews, including very much the visibly traditional Orthodox community,” he said.
Greyf attended the march with Gitelman because although she feels shielded from anti-Semitism in the school’s enviornment, the recent attacks opened her eyes to the lack of security for Jews in America, she said. “[It] reminded me of where we are as a society.”
Student activist Blake Flayton’s speech at Cadman Plaza particularly struck Greyf. Flayton spoke about nonviolent forms of anti-Semitism, referencing his own experiences with name-calling and exclusion from peers. The speech showed Greyf that many schools do not foster a safe and inclusive community for Jews, she said.
On Thursday, Nov. 21 2019, at Ethical Culture Fieldston School, Kayum Ahmed of the Open Society Foundations made a remark in his presentation during a high school assembly that upset many families, Tablet Magazine reported. Ahmed stated that victims of oppression could become perpetrators. He told students “that Jews who suffered in the Holocaust and established the State of Israel today…perpetuate violence against Palestinians that [is] unthinkable.” Many parents voiced their concerns regarding the comment from the assembly to the magazine.
In September 2017, three people spray-painted the word “Jew” on a house on 246th street and Waldo Avenue—just a block away from school. According to Volume 115, Issue 2 of The Record, the school assisted the NYPD in their search to find and hold the perpetrator accountable.
Gurvitch was surprised that the march did not have a large presence in discussions around school or in his history class. This incident is just one example of a larger issue: the school does not address anti-Semitism adequately, he said. “There are a lot of Jews at Horace Mann, but nevertheless, [anti-Semitism] seems to be very under the radar.”
Anti-Semitism should not be a topic reserved only for days of rememberance, such as Yom Hashoah, Gurvitch said. “Even if there are 17 attacks in three weeks, there’s no discussion, which is kind of strange.”
Malcolm Furman (9), who attended the march to show his support against anti-Semitism, said that humanities classes should address anti-Semitism as much as they discuss other forms of discrimination, he said. “In English class, for instance, we read books that discuss racism a lot, or sexism, things like that. Those things are discussed a lot more than anti-Semitism.”
Gitelman described a divide between the school and the outside environment. “In a nice way, [the school] is like a bubble,” she said. “If someone isn’t looking at the news that much, or isn’t thinking about it too hard, it’s very easy to not think of Jews as a marginalized community.”
Kassel said that if there will be any change in the approach the school takes to anti-Semitism, it will be because of the student body. “Adults in this community are in a a more complicated position in terms of the intersection of the personal, political, and professional,” she said. “If you want change, it’s got to come from you.”