If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? — Hillel the Elder, Ethics of the Fathers
It has been two years since a Jewish congregation was viciously attacked as the members celebrated Chanukah together in Monsey, New York. The attack, committed by an individual inspired by antisemitic writings, videos and images, left five wounded and tragically took the life of Josef Neumann z”l. This horrific act did not happen in a vacuum. It occurred during the year that ADL recorded the highest number of antisemitic incidents since it began tracking such data. Unfortunately, we are still at historic levels of antisemitism, depite the social distancing of the pandemic.
On Monday, January 10th, the Rockland Jewish Federation and ADL have partnered to commemorate this tragedy. We will be doing so with words of wisdom from our elected officials, with resolve and concrete steps to fight antisemitism and all forms of hate, and, in keeping with Jewish tradition, we will study Torah. We will learn in the name of those who have so brutally been taken from us, and we hope you can join us for this very special virtual event.
The passage above – from the 1st century BCE sage Hillel – is among the texts that we are asking the community to study ahead of our commemoration. We turn to the words of Hillel because they are at the foundation of our Jewish culture and at the root of the values we share with all Americans. When we are confronted by violent, deadly attacks, vile graffiti, hostile campuses, and a climate of anger, the first inclination might be to hide our Jewish identity and to close ourselves off to protect our loved ones, safeguarding our schools and synagogues. We might be moved to lash out at our adversaries, or the influences we perceive as threats.
Hillel, though, reminds us to not lose sight of who we are – a people with a rich, distinctive culture and religious observance, the so-called people of the book who have shared our wisdom tradition with the world. He implores us to stand up for the Jewish values of justice, freedom, respect, communal responsibility and love of neighbor, conveying that when we see this need we are compelled to action.
On January 10th, we will act. We will stand in unity against the hate that led to such a heinous crime two years ago, and we will resolve to stand together with all people of good will to fight the scourge of antisemitism and all forms of hatred. Such hatred does not just impact the victims. It terrorizes whole communities as it did in Rockland, and it must be pushed by all of us to the margins of society.
Our commemoration through study is a demonstration – even a celebration – of our foundational ideals, our distinct peoplehood, and our commitment to tradition. No individual, no group, no movement will ever take our pride in these elements of our identity away from us. So, while we must resolve to fight antisemitism, we will also respond by living proudly as Jews.
In memory of every victim of antisemitism and hate, let’s measure up to the ideal that Hillel has put forth.
The virtual commemoration of the 2019 Monsey attack will take place on Zoom on Monday, January 10, 2022, from 7-8 p.m. (eastern). You can register for this free event at this link and download the one-page study sheet in advance at this link.
The above was co-authored by Scott Richman & Ari Rosenblum. Scott Richman is the Regional Director for New York/New Jersey at ADL (Anti-Defamation League). Ari Rosenblum is the Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County.