“Discrimination is not kosher!” one sign declared at the Solidarity March in New York City to fight anti-Semitism. “Proud Jew Over Here,” read another.
The march, which took place on Sunday, Jan. 5, was organized by the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. An estimated 25,000 people hailing from dozens of Jewish organizations and communities came together to march from Lower Manhattan across the Brooklyn Bridge in protest of anti-Semitic attacks, and promote the march’s powerful message “No Hate, No Fear.”
As I stood shivering in the cold, waiting for the march to begin, I thought about that message. Until about a year ago, I wouldn’t have associated hate and fear with American Jewry. Having lived all my life in New York City, I had never felt like a minority for being Jewish. I had always been proud of my Jewish identity, and I certainly never felt fearful about disclosing my Jewish roots to anyone. Growing up, I was aware that the Jewish people had been persecuted throughout history, and even though I knew anti-Semitism still existed, I never believed that any community close to mine would ever be targeted.
I first began to take notice of modern anti-Semitism in October of 2018, after the tragic shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which claimed the lives of 11 people. I remember feeling stunned when I heard of the occurrence; stunned and for the first time, afraid. I remember reading tweets and Facebook posts about synagogues all over the country doubling down on security. I remember when my own synagogue reached out to the congregation, assuring us that appropriate measures were taken to protect the congregants from harm. I remember the first Shabbat in November, having to unzip my coat in front of the policemen guarding the synagogue’s doors, waiting for them to let me in, wondering if that was the new normal.
After the Pittsburgh shooting, I began to pay more attention to anti-Semitism. I started observing comparisons between the events I heard about in the news or in my Instagram feed, and events I read about in history books and Holocaust memoirs. Whenever I heard of a synagogue being attacked, a Jewish graveyard being vandalized, or a Jewish person being abused in the streets, I asked myself, “Will my community be next?”
Fast forward to December 2019. Every week I hear about another offense against the Jewish people, many of which have taken place in the greater New York area. In Jersey City, Jewish civilians were killed in a shooting in a kosher supermarket. In Brooklyn, a woman threatened to throw a Jewish subway rider into the tracks, teenagers threw stones at a school bus from a Jewish elementary school, a 22-year-old Hasidic Jewish man was punched in the neck by a young woman and another young Hasidic man was hit over the head with a chair. Finally, on the night of Dec. 28, five Hasidic Jews were gravely injured when a masked man armed with a machete invaded a house where a Hanukkah party was taking place. By that point, it was evident that New York’s Jewish population had to respond.
The first email I received about the solidarity march read, “When our community is threatened, we stand up and we stand together.” In fact, most, if not all, of the emails I received in the week between the march’s conception and its occurrence emphasized the importance of standing together against adversity. New York boasts a Jewish population of 1.5 million, yet that number encompasses such a diverse group of people so that under any other circumstances, I would have doubted that we would ever be united under a common cause. In New York, there are Hasidic families, but also families that are Jewish only by descent. There are Sephardic communities and Ashkenazi communities. There are Jews who align themselves with the political left and Jews who align themselves with the political right. In the past few years, the Jewish community of New York has been divided over more issues than we’ve been united over. But this time, something was different.
Some people came in groups from their synagogues, others came alone or with their families. Some of the men wore yarmulkes, many did not. While most of the marchers held signs calling for an end to anti-Semitism, a few people’s signs directly blamed either President Trump or President Obama for the hate they were experiencing. Many signs referenced Israel and Zionism, while others focused entirely on religion. To a bystander, it may have looked as if the crowds weren’t all protesting the same thing! But it didn’t matter. As I marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, surrounded by tens of thousands of Jewish people, I realized that despite our differences, we all showed up to protest the same injustice. We all came out to prove to the world that we are not afraid to stand up and fight back. Despite the early hour, the icy wind, the closed streets, we all came together to fight for a better world for ourselves, the Jewish people at large and the many generations to come.
Throughout my childhood, I’ve been reminded many times of the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world. As Jews and as people, we are morally obligated to stand up for people in need, not only for our communities but for any community that needs help and support in a difficult time. As we witnessed on Jan. 5, if Jewish people are attacked or oppressed because of their religion, we will reach out and we will stand up and we will fight back together.
Ariela Lopez is a freshman at Hunter College High School in Manhattan.