New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hosted a roundtable Monday to speak out against anti-Semitism following the weekend stabbing during a Hanukkah celebration at a Rabbi’s house in Monsey. She held the forum at nearby Ramapo Town Hall in Rockland County.
Gillibrand said she wanted to visit and hear from the community about how to address a deep-seated issue pervading not only Monsey, a hamlet in the Town of Ramapo, but in neighborhoods across the U.S. Some 35 community and religious leaders, along with elected officials, gathered around to talk about how to address safety and the root of anti-Semitism and hate speech in the county.
“We heard from mothers, we heard from fathers who bring their children to school and are afraid that they will not be safe,” Gillibrand says. “That is not something we as Americans should have to tolerate.”
Abe Glassman took part. He is the head of an organization that represents 1,300 kids in the community’s private schools. Glassman says parents and kids are on edge after the Saturday attack.
“I, for instance, have received numerous phone calls from numerous parents asking me what is going to be done in our school, how are we going to protect our children. There was parents who recommended maybe we should get a guard with ammunition just the outside of the school just in case if something like this happens, it should be struck down right away. There are other people who were asking me to make sure that everything is locked, there should be a lockdown on the whole school and how this is going to be implemented,” Glassman says. “There are people who recommended that there should be special classes for kids, what happens when a shooter, God forbid, or somebody with a machete comes in, how to handle it.”
Gillibrand, a Democrat, pointed to funding via the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to help combat and prevent anti-Semitic violence.
“This provides the funding for our schools, our synagogues, our shuls, places of worship, community centers, any place that might be attacked because of anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred,” Gillibrand says. “I fought for the increase in funding for this program for years, and just last year we broke through. We got $90 million of funding, and $40 million specifically for places in Rockland County for our schools and synagogues.”
She said her office would coordinate with others to host grant-writing workshops in the community. Rivkie Feiner is a Monsey resident and community activist.
“First, I do believe we need more policing. I do feel that we need to see more of a police presence so people feel more secure. You have to make the community feel safe. And by seeing that, that’s one thing, feeling, ok, they’re nearby, they’re not far, if I had an issue, they’ll come. So that’s number one,” Feiner says. “Number two is I do believe more security at our houses of worship, at our kids’ schools. We are not up to par, let’s say, with [as] a non-public school. If would compare security, you just don’t have the same things in place.”
Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht says visible and undercover patrols have been increased.
“We have greater patrols going through Monsey, where this happened, and the rest of the town,” says Specht. “We’ve also been very fortunate that our partners in other law enforcement agencies have helped us out.”
Orange County resident Grafton Thomas was charged with federal hate crimes in the attack. Authorities say he had handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic references and had recently used his phone to look up information on Hitler and the location of synagogues. Meantime, Specht wants to hire more police officers, and implement license plate readers at every entrance into Ramapo given how Thomas was apprehended.
“We’re looking to also, on an emergency level, purchase license plate readers,” Specht says. “This individual was apprehended because of LPRs, license plate readers. Luckily, a victim of the attack caught his license plate, was brave enough and had the presence of mind to go out, catch the license plate, report it right away to the police, and there are license plate readers that caught this guy going off the George Washington Bridge and going into Harlem.”
He plans to look into financing for the LPRs and ask elected officials to help with funding.
“They’re very expensive,” says Specht. “It would cost over $1 million to get the ones we need but, on the other hand, you can’t put a price on safety, and we now see the need for it.”
Both Specht and Gillibrand agreed with officials who suggested that social media platforms like Facebook should be responsible for removing hate speech. And some local leaders blame politics within the county for leading to such an attack. Mayor of New Square Israel Spritzer said during the roundtable that what occurred has been several years in the making, that there have been numerous meetings with different leaders and different political parties trying to set an agenda and dialogue. He says these efforts failed miserably and Saturday’s attack is the result. Glassman called on local elected officials to come out and condemn verbal attacks on social media and during local political campaigns.
“When there are social media, people talking about we have to stop them and all those generalizing when it comes to Jewish community,” Glassman says. “I think if that would have been stopped earlier, I would like to think that we would not be in a situation where we are now.”
Mona Montal is Specht’s chief of staff. She also sat at the roundtable and told a story about bringing her son to the airport after he visited for the holidays. She said they stopped on the way, and he took off his yarmulke out of fear.