LIVINGSTON, NJ — As tens of thousands of people marched through Lower Manhattan on Sunday in a show of solidarity for the Jewish community in response to recent anti-Semitic attacks, hundreds of Livingston residents who couldn’t make the trek into the city took to the streets of their own hometown instead to show their support.
Knowing that a ride into Manhattan on a Sunday morning was not going to work for their young family, local parents Brandon and Claudia Minde decided to make their own march of solidarity with their children. Less than 48 hours prior to the march, Brandon and Claudia posted on Facebook about their intentions and were shocked when more than 200 people showed up at the Memorial Oval to rally against anti-Semitism—including local youth, township council members, school board officials and more.
“We all must be proud Jews, wherever we are; but if the past year has taught us anything, anti-Semitism is present here in our own backyard, and simply being proud is not enough to fight it,” Brandon said during the rally. “We must be proud, and loud. Being loud means letting people know when something is not okay—because what we have witnessed recently is that when small acts go unchecked, then perpetrators and haters get braver and braver each time in how far they are willing to go.
“No one is born hating. Anti-Semitism is a learned behavior, and those susceptible to its message utilize it based on what they judge as its social acceptance. We need to stop the disease before it spreads. We need to stomp out any sparks before a fire rages. We can’t allow an ‘innocent’ swastika to turn into murdered Jews in a temple, a deli, or on a street.”
Brandon, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, reminded residents that anti-Semitism led to the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust and has recently, 75 years later, led to violence in Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, Monsey and Jersey City.
He stated that it is “in the face of silence" that those willing to "do the small things”—such as commenting on someone’s Jewish looks, drawing a swastika on a student’s desk or making remarks about Jews taking over a certain neighborhood—get “emboldened to do the horrific.” He urged residents to focus on educating themselves, their children and the community about “how to combat anti-Semitism.”
Claudia—who served for 10 years as the Hebrew High School director at Temple Bnai Abraham (TBA) and also currently serves as advisor for the Livingston girls’ chapter of B'nai B'rith Youth Organization (BBYO)—explained that a major part of her curriculum at TBA was to “prepare students to combat anti-Semitism here in our local community.”
But each year, Claudia said new students would discuss “the same Jewish jokes” they would hear at school, such as “stereotypes about large noses, money and ‘Jewing you down.’”
“It was literally the same thing every year, just different kids,” said Claudia.
The mother of three explained that when she first heard of the Solidarity March in NYC, she and Brandon knew they not only needed to get involved, but that their children needed to be exposed to it as well.
“[Our children] will not have the opportunity to hear directly about anti-Semitism from a Holocaust survivor," she said. "They need to know what a swastika is and that if someone draws one on a desk or in a schoolyard, it is a sign of hate towards Jews and their response to it needs to be proud and loud.
“[Our children] need to know what it means to come together in solidarity when any type of hate happens in our backyard. They need to know the importance of ‘Never Again’ and that the way to combat and stand up to anti-Semitism is with education and knowledge before it happens.”
Livingston High School (LHS) junior Ellie Barshad, current president of the Livingston BBYO chapter, also spoke during the event about how her generation sees the increasing anti-Semitism and the role she and her peers must play to combat it.
Resident Ilyse Shainbrown, a Livingston alumna (Class of 1995) who holds a master’s degree in Holocaust and Genocide studies, spoke about her Holocaust education initiatives throughout the state. In an article she recently wrote for the “Times of Israel” blog about the shooting in Jersey City, Shainbrown explained that her job is to use the lessons of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism to “hopefully educate for a better future.”
She also told the story about Livingston resident and Holocaust survivor Norbert Bikales, and what it means for a community to come together to fight anti-Semtitism.
“Our community has always come together in times like this, to show we won’t stand for hate and anti-Semitism, and that is why [the council] thought it was important to participate,” said Livingston Mayor Rudy Fernandez, who attended the rally along with Deputy Mayor Shawn Klein and council members Ed Meinhardt, Michael Vieira and Al Anthony. “It was also appropriate to end the walk at the Oval, where we have raised the Israeli, Indian and Pride flags near the memorial that honors our residents that have served and died protecting our freedoms, and where people were able to peacefully enjoy our holiday display celebrating multiple faiths. Livingston always stands up for what is right and decent.”
Billy Fine, chair of the Livingston Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (LCDI), commented on the turnout of the event, stating that “this what makes us stronger as a township.”
“It is very important to note when a citizen rises up to take a stand for causes greater than just one person,” he said. “What started as a small effort from Brandon and Claudia Minde turned into a wonderfully moving march and rally against anti-Semitism and hate.
"While I am proud of the work that the LCDI does for our township, and the amazing work done by Pastor Dan Martian and The Interfaith Clergy to bring our community closer together in understanding one another, we must not forget the power of individual citizens banding together for a greater good. It is through this partnership between organized groups and individuals that we enact the change we wish to see. This march showcased that quite well.”
Fine also expressed that “hatred of another person based on their looks, beliefs or backgrounds will not be tolerated in Livingston” and urged those who experience or see acts of hatred “to make their voices heard.”
“Livingston is a place which we often think of as safe thanks to the emphasis of community safety from our police department and public officials; however, no one is immune,” he said. “Vigilance and integrity is key to keeping our neighbors safe. And, more so, communication—please take time to learn about cultures you do not know about and practice acts of compassion and kindness. Only then can we rise above hatred as a community.”
Many participants met at Starbucks in Livingston to make signs prior to walking as a group to the Memorial Oval.