Building on Solidarity, Growing Away from Hate

This morning on the subway I was approached by a middle-aged Caribbean woman, a self-identified Jehovah’s Witness and Wall Street bond trader. Seeing my yarmulke, she confirmed that I was Jewish, and then it all came out — she selected me to offer all of us her heartfelt condolences for the 11 victims of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life victims, murdered on Shabbat.

I could tell that she had been searching for answers and for an explanation for such an unspeakable event.

Over the 48 hours after the murders I have seen such reactions from my non- Jewish friends and colleagues as never before; people who were moved from deep within their soul and wanted to act in some way, seeking to be a part of something better.

Immediately after Shabbat concluded I saw a text message from Bill LaForet, the mayor of Mahwah, who boldly stood up in the face of anti-Semitism last year. He wanted to let me know that he was ordering the municipality’s flags lowered to half-mast to honor those who were murdered and in solidarity with the Jewish community.

In my standard Monday morning call to the Englewood city manager, the first words he said were “Where are we going as a country?” Even a former colleague from a government relations firm sent a private message to me about how his heart goes out to me and to the Jewish community at large.

In our society’s desperate pursuit of something positive that could come from this abominable tragedy, I think the answer lies in the fact that so many people have expressed—both here and around the world — their solidarity with us Jews. Our community should try to build on this new solidarity to counter those who use “intersectionality” to create unfair animosity toward our community.

We can see right here and now an opportunity to alter those damaging false narratives. As the larger diverse American communities reach out in this unique way, a way that I simply cannot believe is happening only among my personal universe of contacts, we need to use this opportunity to prove to the families affected that we are all affected, that this suffering has meaning, that it can become a touchstone to a movement looking to eradicate such hatred from our civic life.

As police and news reports continue to shed additional light on the horrific details of that day, we increasingly see the usage of social media venues by those who seek to do us harm. The late Prime Minister of Israel Menachem Begin famously said, “If an enemy of our people says he seeks to destroy us, believe him. Don’t doubt him for a moment. Don’t make light of him. Do all in your power to deny him the means of carrying out his satanic intent.”

At the Simon Wiesenthal Center, we take every threat to the Jewish people and to all people seriously, and we work to combat that hate and promote the virtues of tolerance. Whether on social media or elsewhere, we will continue to develop and deploy the tools and resources necessary to meet these challenges, and we hope that the generous outpouring of consolation will grow into a strategic unified front among all peoples as we stand together against hate.

About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.