On Jan. 5, 25,000 people took to the streets of New York City to take a stand against anti-Semitism in the wake of a startling trend of increasingly frequent anti-Semitic attacks. The most recent anti-Semitic attack occurred when a man armed with a machete stabbed five people who were gathered for Chanukah celebrations in Brooklyn. A report from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino concludes that the rate of hate crimes in the United States’ three biggest cities (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago) is at its highest point in 18 years. As such, the Jan. 5 march served as a show of solidarity among people from all walks of life, and a rallying cry for awareness of these attacks as people chanted, “No hate. No fear.”
Marchers came to the event from far and wide, with many descending upon Lower Manhattan from across the East Coast, Cleveland and even Canada. The event, which was organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Anti-Defamation League, the New York Board of Rabbis, the American Jewish Committee and the UJA-Federation of New York, saw marchers carrying signs, wrapping themselves in Israeli flags, and singing Hebrew songs as they marched from Foley Square in Lower Manhattan to the Brooklyn side of the Brooklyn Bridge. UJA-Federation of New York CEO Eric S. Goldstein commented on the significance of the bridge crossing saying, “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. Building bridges means putting aside our differences, religious and political, and calling out anti-Semitism and all forms of hate wherever we see it.”
Unfortunately, not everyone agreed with Goldstein about the positive effects of the march. Leaders of the Hasidic community, who were the target of the most recent anti-Semitic attack in New York, did not attend the march. Instead, they criticized the event’s organizers for not supporting their conservative views and practices and for giving legitimacy to anti-Semitic organizations by organizing an event that would draw significant public and media attention to the actions of these groups.
Many noted that the march could not just be an isolated event if it was to have a substantial positive effect. To this end, a number of political figures attended or spoke at the event about changes that they hope to create to fight back against anti-Semitism in the future. New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo told the crowd that New York will increase funding for security at religious institutions in addition to increasing the presence of the state police and hate crimes task force members in at-risk communities. He also announced plans to propose a new state law that will label hate crimes as domestic terrorism. New York Senator Chuck Schumer also spoke at the march and announced a proposal to increase federal funding to protect houses of worship and increase the capacity for local police forces to fight hate crimes. Other notable attendees included New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. It’s disheartening that anti-Semitism is still present throughout society today, even generations after the atrocities of the Holocaust. I believe that events like this march are vitally important to eliminating tragedies like the aforementioned stabbings from our world. Allowing Jews of different communities and beliefs to come together for a common cause and promote awareness is important, but perhaps more vital is the material change that the march has the potential to create at both the state and federal level. I look forward to seeing these promises fulfilled so that the world can become a safer place for Jews and other religions alike.