“I see tonight what I knew about this community for a long time…you really make the suburbs look good,” began Hindi Poupko, the Deputy Chief Planning Officer at UJA-Federation of New York, and one of the night’s keynote speakers. While the event, an informative discussion of the rise of anti-Semitism hosted by UJA, hoped to gather 100 people, nearly 700 passionate attendees assembled in the White Plains sanctuary on last Wednesday evening, Jan. 8.
Poupko was one of three to headline the night’s event. The list also included Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. and Director of Foreign Affairs and United Nations Representative for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mark Weitzman. All three accomplished speakers discussed both domestic and international anti-Semitism, offered meaningful personal anecdotes and suggested ways to combat hate experienced by Jewish communities worldwide.
Scarpino provided the audience with knowledge on Westchester County’s law enforcement response to the rising levels of hate felt by its Jews. He stated, “My office takes all hate incidents and hate crimes seriously,” and detailed measures being taken regarding increased security and law enforcement training throughout the County.
From Weitzman, the second speaker, the audience received an answer to the question flowing through the minds of many over the past few months: is what Jews are experiencing in America today, a Holocaust in slow motion? His answer was a resounding “No.” He cited the main difference to be that, in America today, while there is no doubt a rise in anti-Semitic and discriminatory acts of violence, this is not state-sponsored. He then left the audience with some powerful remarks on how they should respond to the overwhelming increase of hate. Weitzman also emphasized that the main ideas leading to the Holocaust are not in line with the values that have existed in America since its birth. To conclude, he left the audience with an uplifting message: “Anti-Semitism is not a reason to be Jewish…to be Jewish involves embracing an extremely positive…approach to life. That is why being Jewish…is so important.”
Poupko then stepped up to the podium as the final speaker of the night. Of all speakers, she seemed to move the audience the most. She began by plainly stating that it is not the job of Jewish citizens to respond to hate crimes – it is the government’s job to respond and protect all. This received resounding applause from the crowd. As a member of the audience, when she said this, I immediately felt a surge of energy from my community. She then moved to a discussion of anti-Semitism in relation to anti-Zionism. As a student, I deal with these issues regularly. It is when lines blur between anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments that I have the most trouble asserting a response. Poupko astutely declared that anti-Zionism directly contributes to the anti-Semitic atmosphere that we live in today.
“The best response to anti-Semitism is doing what you are doing tonight: showing up and being loud and being proud,” Poupko concluded, again bringing the audience to enthusiastic applause.
Walking out of the sanctuary, I left with more knowledge on the subject of anti-Semitism, as well as a strong sense of faith in my community. I had felt the resilience of the Jewish people that night.
Ariel Weinsaft is a junior at Scarsdale High School.