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January 6, 2020 10:38 am

‘We Are Praying With Our Feet’: Interfaith Voices Join New York Rally Against Antisemitism

avatar by Gary Shapiro


Members of the St. Francis Xavier Church in Brooklyn at Sunday’s march against antisemitism. Photo: Gary Shapiro.

Fighting antisemitism is not just a matter for the Jews. The number of non-Jewish speakers at the podium expressing solidarity with the Jewish community at a large New York rally on Sunday underscored this point. 

“It’s heart-warming to see the breadth of representation of many different faiths,” said Michael Meyer, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a sponsor of the event, which drew thousands of attendees, who gathered in a show of unity amid a surge of antisemitic crimes in the region.  

Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said that the antisemitic events had spurred a remarkable response from many different faith communities. He noted, “I haven’t seen this kind of outpouring of solidarity with the Jewish people in my lifetime.”

The rally called “No Hate, No Fear,” moved slowly from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer of UJA-Federation of New York, pointed to the symbolism of crossing the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn.

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“We’re building bridges and they can’t be built in a day,” he said. Looking out at the crowd, he commented, “I’ve never been prouder to be a New York Jew.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), cited statistics showing there had been in New York State a 55% increase in antisemitic incidents in 2018 — a level that could be surpassed when the 2019 data is compiled.

“This has got to stop,” he said. 

David Harris, chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, said that, of course, all would need to play a role in ending hatred, but added provocatively, “Antisemitism is a non-Jewish problem for non-Jews to solve.” 

He ended by quoting Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Devorah Halberstam, who rose to prominence as an activist after her son Ari was murdered in the 1994 Brooklyn Bridge shooting, spoke movingly. She quoted Elie Wiesel, saying that when facing evil “we must always take sides.”

Other speakers at the rally included Orthodox Jewish community leaders from Brooklyn and Jersey City.  

The principal organizers of the rally were UJA-Federation of New York, the New York Board of Rabbis, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the American Jewish Committee.

The rally came in response to the recent surge of anti-Hasidic violence in the region. A gunman killed a pair of Hasidic Jews at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey, and a machete attack took place at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York.  There were also several assaults in Brooklyn over Hanukkah. 

Que English, co-pastor of Bronx Christian Fellowship, said it would take an army to vanquish “such deep-rooted hatred.”

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, described antisemitism as a “dismal, scary hatred that can only be solved by a conversion of the heart.”

Mehnaz Afridi, director of Manhattan College’s Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Education Center, said that courage could help stop the hate. She cited Wiesel, pointing out that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

Reverend Lawrence Aker, III, the senior pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn, acknowledged that fighting antisemitism would take work. “It’s an old, old foe,” he said. 

In the crowd beside a large banner was Father John Mulreany of St. Francis Xavier Church, who said, “Especially as Christians, we have to recognize our role historically in antisemitism and need to especially stand against it today.”

A parishioner from that church, John Karle, stated, “As part of the Catholic community, we want to take action. Just showing up is important. We are praying with our feet.”

Nearby was the most amusing poster of the afternoon. It read, “You can’t hate Jews and love bagels.”

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