Last week, I was honored to be asked to represent Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg at a meeting with Governor Phil Murphy and approximately 40 other Jewish leaders from across the state. The group included elected officials, the Attorney General’s office, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the ADL, Federation leadership, state law enforcement, and other Jewish and international faith-community leaders from Lakewood, Jersey City, and beyond.
The mission was to discuss combatting anti-Semitism and keeping Jews safe in New Jersey.
In attending, I was aware of the many hats that I wore that day to represent my colleagues and constituents from Englewood, District 37, the Jewish community, the nonpublic-school community, the NAACP (of which I am a card-carrying member), and more. There were many fears expressed at the meeting, and also a great deal of gratitude for the support we get from local and state elected officials and law enforcement. A number of key leaders spoke, but perhaps the most crucial takeaway was the feeling that we are all in this together, and that in order to eradicate hate and bias and related crimes, we must work across faiths and across political divides to be better observers, better neighbors, and better advocates for that which is good for everyone — security, understanding, and education.
As a longtime executive committee member of Teach NJ, I was proud to hear the governor relay, once again, his commitment to ensuring that all schools are safe — including nonpublic schools. Sitting directly to my right at this meeting was one of the biggest advocates for security increases for nonpublic schools, Assemblyman Gary Schaer. With his leadership, we have worked to exponentially increase the security funding for Jewish (and Catholic, Muslim, and other private schools) year over year in New Jersey. Assemblyman Schaer intends to champion legislation that will build on this positive momentum, and in a world where it feels as if we can never do enough to protect our children, these leaps forward are a beacon of hope.
Relating to a wholly different aspect of youth education, the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights is leading the governor’s task force to combat youth bias by educating children about tolerance and understanding at the earliest ages. New Jersey is one of few states that mandates and funds Holocaust education, and this was cited as proof that it is part of the state’s mission to educate children in ways that will prevent hate and bias. Investment in education will go far to ensure our children have a better, less hate-filled future.
The ADL’s New York/New Jersey regional director spoke eloquently about the need to understand the changing dynamics of anti-Semitism and hatred toward Jews. He stressed that taking a closer look at changing demographics, gentrification, and the displacement of minorities is essential to understanding the dynamics at play, and that while these issues are a natural progression in most communities throughout history, they are especially fraught with fear and negativity about Jews in New York and New Jersey today.
We cannot ignore it, even if we can’t (or don’t wish to) change it. As Dr. Stephen Covey writes, we must “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is so very important in a world of much noise — listen more, talk later.
Perhaps the most incredible quote of the day was from Colonel Patrick J. Callahan, the acting superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, who said “tolerance isn’t enough. You tolerate a mosquito, not a person.”
The meeting in Trenton took place the day after the Siyum HaShas, and Colonel Callahan had overseen all of the security for the siyum at MetLife Stadium. He said he had never been thanked so many times in his life, and he was certain that the stadium was the safest place on earth that day. He expressed his deep commitment to the safety of Jews in New Jersey. He echoed what many other said — that that the safety of everyone depends on the partnership and understanding between groups, including faith-based groups, minorities, elected officials, and law enforcement.
We must embrace, and not just tolerate, others, and seek to understand their perspectives in order to eradicate bias and hate.
Another interesting dynamic in the room was the extent to which each representative advocated for their own piece of the pie, so to speak. Though this is to be expected, the voices in the room were extremely diverse, each approaching the issue through their own lens. In addition to the voices I mentioned above, there was a strong Chabad voice from different rabbis and representatives, who called attention to the fact that many Chabad centers fall through the cracks of security funding guidelines because of their small size. A federation representative suggested that the state representatives should work more closely with federation in organizing their planning and response to certain issues, as sometimes the large statewide interfaith group is not practical or effective for these purposes. The rabbi of Temple Beth-El in Jersey City talked about her synagogue’s social justice and outreach programming, which she thinks can be a model for how Jews can effectively interact with and build bridges toward other communities.
I humbly took the opportunity to wear my municipal representative hat to advocate for the state’s help with law enforcement initiatives to prevent and respond to bias crimes, since many cities and towns do not have the resources we need to be completely effective on our own. Though I walked in cynical about what could really be accomplished in an hour-long meeting, I left feeling grateful for the state representatives who are helping to fight hate every day, and with a renewed sense of comfort that the issue is not being ignored or forgotten.
In order to fight any kind of hate, we have to fight every kind of hate.