25,000 people march against hate and fear in New York
By Karen Schwartz
(JNS) Thousands of marchers assembled in Manhattan on Sunday, Jan. 5 taking to the streets and flooding the Brooklyn Bridge for hours as they crossed into the borough of Brooklyn amid chants of “No Hate, No Fear,” the theme of the event.
An estimated 25,000 crossed the bridge and joined even more people to converge on Manhattan’s Foley Square, making their way to Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza, where they heard from community leaders and organizations that urged Jewish pride and unity in the face of escalating anti-Semitism.
Sponsors included the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Anti-Defamation League, the Board of Rabbis of New York, the American Jewish Committee and the UJA-Federation of New York. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) each spoke Sunday in Manhattan on streets packed with people holding signs and spontaneously breaking into song.
“While we’re here today in the spirit of solidarity and love, government must do more than just offer thoughts and prayers—government must act,” said Cuomo, adding that he would be proposing a new law for the state of New York that categorizes hate crimes as domestic terrorism.
“Today, we do not simply walk over a bridge, we begin building better bridges between all denominations of Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews,” said Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. “Building bridges means putting aside our differences, religious and political, and calling out anti-Semitism and all forms of hate wherever we see it. The purpose of today’s march is to loudly and publicly proclaim that an attack on a visibly Orthodox Jew is an attack on every Jew, an attack on every New Yorker and an attack on every person of good will.”
Groups from around New York, as well as from cities and states including Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., were represented at the event, in addition to Montreal and Toronto in Canada, with more than 15 Jewish Federations bringing delegations.
Stew Bromberg, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Western Mass., brought a small contingent from Springfield to the march, leaving Springfield for New York at 7 a.m. They were one of the first Federations to arrive in Manhattan for the gathering.
“As we crossed the bridge, with signs expressing the message above, many people driving over the bridge beeped their horns and offered ‘Thumbs Up’ helping to encourage those of us marching proudly across the bridge…What a sense of unity and power the day represented,” Stew told his community members in an email newsblast.
Despite the fact that she was battling the flu, Judy Narod of Worcester and her husband Jeff, director of ClarkU Hillel, still attended the rally.
“She felt like she had to,” Jeff said. “It was a cold day but it was a warm feeling being with such a large number of people.
“My parents are survivors of the Holocaust and I was born shortly after they came to America. My sisters were born in resettlement camps in Germany,” Jeff Narod said. “I remember hearing as a child my mother talking about how much she loved America and how it was the most wonderful country in the world, but that we needed to always be aware that anti-Semitism could rear its head again. I remember as children myself and my two older sisters would kind of chuckle and say, ‘Mom, this is America, it couldn’t happen here.’ And she would look at us and say that she hoped that we were right.
“But she was afraid it could happen anywhere and at any time. So we always need to be aware of that and to look out and be protective. And when I think of that and I see what’s been happening of late and all of the increased attacks in the Jewish community in New York and elsewhere, I realize it’s important for all of us to stand together and to let it be known that together we will do everything possible to make sure that this anti-Semitic behavior and these attacks are stopped. An attack against any Jew is an attack against all of us.”
Such recent anti-Semitic incidents include a Dec. 28 attack during a Chanukah candle-lighting at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, N.Y., that left five people seriously injured, and a kosher supermarket attack in Jersey City, N.J., that resulted in the deaths of three civilians (two of them Chassidic Jews) and a police detective. That’s not to mention the spate of verbal and physical attacks against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn — namely, those dressed in traditional Jewish garb.
Yaacob Azancot, a college student who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., rode the subway with his family to Sunday’s event and found himself getting harassed on the way.
“On the way to the rally, we were getting off the train and someone pushed me with a lot of force,” he said. “I think it’s the kipah—being Jewish, being Orthodox. My brother was right next to me; he had his tzitzit out.”
Rabbi Uriel Vigler, director of Chabad Israel Center of the Upper East Side in Manhattan, said he was glad to see Jews from all walks of life together at the event, but added that there was more work to be done.
“We have to do something, we have to be prouder Jews, and that has to establish itself in practical mitzvot,” he explained.
It’s an unprecedented time in America, said Vigler, who was on his way to morning services last spring when he was accosted by a man shouting anti-Semitic remarks.
“Even walking in the Upper East Side, I’m aware of my surroundings, where I’m going, what I’m doing; however, I hope and I pray that this situation will not last, and we will get out of this current predicament,” he said.
Rabbi Isaiah Rothstein, rabbi-in-residence for the nonprofit organization Hazon, brought his guitar to the march and led the crowd in Cadman Plaza in “Hatikvah.” The crowd, which kept growing as people came off of the bridge throughout the event to join the crowd, also heard from singer Matisyahu and the Jewish a capella group the Maccabeats.
“We’re not only showing up and showing the solidarity and visibility and power of numbers, but we’re actually spiritually influencing each other; the energy of being next to each other, singing a song while marching the streets of Manhattan,” said Rothstein. “Seeing people speak, seeing a child or elderly person walking the street … it’s sacred, and the power of interfaith, where it’s not just Jews standing up for Jews, but people standing up for the dignity of all.”
Gregg Levine, who came with his husband as part of a contingent of some 100-people strong from Cleveland, canceled plans for Saturday night to instead take the midnight bus to New York.
“This is one of those important opportunities to build bridges and fight hate,” said Levine, who was proud that the Cleveland group also included a number of teens. “I think it’s important that we use this really dark time to shed some light, that we can all come together as a community—not only as a community of Jews, but as a community of other people who’ve also been discriminated against and say, ‘We won’t tolerate this; we’ve got to stand together and fight this hatred.’ ”
‘It’s important to show up’
The event drew a diverse group of supporters. Rokeya Akhter marched with the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a network of Muslim and Jewish women. Co-leader of the Queens chapter, she said she came out to reinforce the message of unity.
“It’s a most important thing to stand next to my Jewish sisters and brothers,” she said. “Love is stronger than hate.”
Brother Joseph Bach attended Sunday’s events as part of a group of Franciscan Brothers of Brooklyn to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, he said. “I think we’re all in this together, all human beings; we have to stand together and focus on what brings us together, which is being human.”
It was also a learning moment, said Mindy Brittner, who came to the event with her husband, Jackson Nurmi, and their daughter, Willa. The family rode down to the event with a group from Manhattan’s Town & Village Synagogue on East 14th Street.
“I’ve marched for everyone else in the past two years, and now it’s time to be there for my people,” said Mindy Brittner. “It’s all interrelated.”
In addition to coming to support the cause, Brittner said it was important to her to bring her daughter, all of two years old, with them, saying, “I want her to know it’s important to show up.”
Following the march, New Yorkers of all backgrounds gathered in Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza where a number of community leaders and heads of faith-based organizations, including Cardinal Timothy Dolan, spoke about the recent attacks, the rise of anti-Semitism and the need for people of all faiths to fight injustice.
Additional speakers and performers during the program included Eric Goldstein, Michael Miller, Devorah Halberstam, Jonathan Greenblatt, Gil Monrose, David Harris, Mehnaz Afridi, Janice Shorenstein, Frankie Miranda, Joe Potasnik, Bishop Anthony DiMarzio, Blake Flayton, Eric Ward, Chaskel Bennet, Rabbi Avraham Gopin, Shulem, MaNishtana, Lawrence Aker, Rev. Que English, Eli Cohen, Amy Bressman, Bari Weiss and Isaiah Rothstein, as well as a video message from Rabbi David Niederman.