Deborah Katchko-Gray
Pioneer woman cantor, artist and Bubbie.

My ADL Day. Never is Now!

As a news junkie, I am constantly looking for the latest news about the Jewish world and Israel specifically. Since Oct. 7, like many others, I haven’t slept through the night once- always checking the Jerusalem Post in the middle of the night in case something has come up for the hostages, hoping for survival and rescue.

It is not an easy time to be Jewish anywhere, especially in Israel and for us, the United States.

When my husband suggested I attend the ADL conference Never is Now, I eagerly agreed. I hate feeling hopeless and have been doing more advocacy for Israel by writing op-eds, interviews for local anti-Israel events, and like everyone else, social media sharing and postings.

What a great feeling to be with 3000 people (not just Jews!) who care about the rising antisemitism and hate in our lives. The caliber of speakers was breathtaking and inspiring.

I’d like to share a few words from a few speakers I found helpful and uplifting.

The most amazing and impressive speech was by the head of ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt. He spoke so clearly and passionately, making it crystal clear what we are facing.

“When Hamas is celebrated, there is moral confusion.”

He shared the unprecedented surge in antisemitism worldwide up 960% in Brazil, 384% France, 320% Germany and 360% in the USA. If ever there was a time to say never again, it is now. “Pull the alarm!”

He told us it was like being in a Kafka novel- up is down, dark is light, bad is good. Anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

“Anti-Zionism denies freedom and self-determination of Jews in their homeland- it makes you a bigot.”

How enlightening it was to hear him teach us that it is a new evil when journalists look for supporting evidence instead of focusing on the victims. Did anyone look for alternative views when the NAACP called out racism? Did they go and seek David Duke’s opinion? Why is it so hard for journalists to believe the suffering of Israelis? Go ask Hamas what they think? To dismiss and marginalize our pain is unacceptable.

Believe every woman but Jewish women? How long did it take the UN to finally realize there was horrific weaponized rape and torture by Hamas against Israeli women and children?

It’s dangerous when the media becomes Hamas apologists.

On Oct. 8, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) released a tool kit celebrating the atrocities. They are strategizing new ways to dismantle Zionism.

In the face of the angry mobs, there is still hope. Young people are wearing Jewish stars around their necks, kippot and standing up to the hatred on campuses.

“ADL gives us hope that we must go from being observers to being activists. Jews have improved life all over the world. The harassment and attacks must stop.

We will not flee!

We will fight back and win!

Am Yisrael Chai!”

Immediately after this rousing and inspiring speech we heard by satellite from the President of Israel, Isaac Herzog.

He expressed concern for the safety of the Jewish American community and urged us to come together. This is the worst spike in antisemitism since the Holocaust.

“In the face of hate, we cannot be silent.

Our voice will be louder than the voice of hatred.

We stand for justice, love and peace.”

The issue of hostages is always in our minds, and the next two speakers were powerful reminders of the struggle.

Daniel Lipshitz, grandson of two hostages, one freed, one still captive spoke with passion and conviction. He shared that his grandfather, Oded, still held hostage by Hamas monsters, was always a peace activist. He drove kids from Gaza to medical appointments, helped build schools in Gaza and helped Bedouins in earlier years. Even with no news, they remain optimistic and still peace activists. His grandfather’s values show the possibility to see something different, shared Daniel. He implored us to call for release of the hostages every day- speak for them.

Another Israeli speaker, Inor Kagno, was the main photographer for the Nova music festival that was attacked by Hamas. At the peaceful spiritual music festival 364 attendees were brutally murdered, and atleast 44 taken hostage. Countless were raped and mutilated.

Inor is a hero in many ways- he helped photograph as many attendees as he could, as well as victims to help identify people as the tragedy unfolded. He was in a bomb shelter with 250 people and took photos and names of everyone around him. He was able to communicate by phone and help others escape. We learned that the trans music scene is highly spiritual and about happiness, light, and peace. Inor said, “I don’t need confidence, I have experience. They always tried to kill us, but we survive and prosper.”

Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, special US Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism spoke next. I remember her visiting our class with Prof. Elie Wiesel in the late 1970’s as a Holocaust scholar. To see her on the world stage helping to protect the Jewish people is very moving.

She has seen and studied antisemitism all her life. She shared that is has been sobering to see the glee of the haters, the tearing down of posters of hostages by young people; shocking incidents like Hunter College protesters chanting, “Jews Jews Jews you decide – do you support genocide” The hatred and glee she has seen is shocking.

Deborah told us that “ The Holocaust denial movement took two decades to grow, the Oct. 7 denials took two days.

To deny inconvenient history and inconvenient facts, to paint Hamas as freedom fighters shows no regard for facts.”

What happened to believe all women? Human rights and feminists need “evidence”? It’s hypocritical and antisemitic.

No one has ever said in the face of other world tragedies,

“Show us the evidence”. There is a deep sense of betrayal. She shared a lesson I remember so well from Prof. Wiesel. The SS and highest-ranking Nazi officers had advanced college degrees in philosophy, history, medicine. Wiesel always said, “education without morality and ethics is not education”.

Deborah Lipstadt said, “You can be a PHD and a SOB at the same time. “

Antisemitism is a global threat, a threat to democracy. Bad actors are using this to destabilize our country. Our country is standing firm on this issue and is calling out antisemitism through over 20 agencies.

What can we do?

Deborah Lipstadt urges us to double up on Jewish traditions.

We must celebrate learning and study.

Don’t let the oppressors define how you identify as a Jew.

“We’ve been around a long time, and there is no logical reason any Jews should exist. It’s not logical to survive and thrive…” But of course we do, and we will survive and thrive.

I was very pleased to hear and see the next speaker, although many were less than welcoming, and I felt rude.

Jared Kushner is the architect of the historic groundbreaking Abraham Accords, which is still holding firm, even with the Gaza war, which is incredible. In years past, the Arab block would vote against Israel unanimously- not now, and we can thank the Abraham Accords for that.

The different approach was to look for commonalities and see the benefits of being together. It is what all peace activists should be celebrating- however partisan politics blinds people, and it was clear to me at the conference. He created a dialogue of understanding and trust. It can expand to other countries, and it is. With constructive engagement, you eliminate antisemitism with the success of having nothing to fight about, only things to work together on.

I was happy Jonathan Greenblatt put aside his political feelings and invited Jared to speak. I wish others could have focused on the accomplishments which can bring a more stable peace in the region; helping Israel and Arab countries work on a prosperous future together.

Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews spoke with incredible passion and fervor. She shared that the Jewish people predates concepts of modern race, nationality, religion. “We are shared history and culture. Antisemitism is a very old hatred that is a denial of our reality in order to destroy us.”

What are the best strategies here?

Schools need to learn about Jews. Teach about basic Jewish history. Our refusal to bow down to tyrants, to resist idolatry is our history and foundation. She reminded us of the story of Purim. Queen Esther rose to the occasion and spoke to the king to save our people from the evil Haman.

“Our enemies have loud voices. Use our spheres of influence- It is time to go to the King! Be strong and courageous! Am Yisrael Chai!”

There were other moving speakers, Nusier Yassin, a peace activist who received the Daniel Pearl Award, Mark Rowan, business exec who showed courage at UPenn standing up to antisemitism in colleges, ending with Rabbi David Wolpe, sharing a blessing for us- my favorite, the Yivarechecha. The oldest blessing, the oldest bit of Torah.

I’m so glad I attended this conference. I have even more incentive to speak out and stand up against antisemitism. I hope you will too. Never is Now.

Proud to meet Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of ADL
President of Israel, Isaac Herzog

About the Author
Fourth generation cantor, second woman to serve a traditional synagogue and founder of the Women Cantors' Network. Deborah studied with Elie Wiesel z"l and continues to be inspired by his teachings. First recipient of the Debbie Friedman Miriam Award. A cantor in Ridgefield, CT since 1999, cellist, tallit Swedish weaving embroiderer, mother of 6, grandmother of five. Wife and friend.