HACKENSACK, NJ — Less than two weeks after six people were shot to death inside a Jewish deli in Jersey City, and a man raided a rabbi’s residence in Monsey, New York senselessly stabbing five Orthodox Jews with a machete during a Hanukkah celebration, 14 state, local and religious leaders banded together at the Hackensack Performing Arts Center Tuesday to process the news and instill the message of hope, unity, and love in the community.  

“I’m here today full of hope, not despair,” said Congressman Josh Gottheimer at the podium before a sizable crowd of residents inside the State Street theater on Jan. 7. “Hope that if we stand together, we can knock down the wave of anger that is engulfing far too many of our communities — both here in New Jersey and around the world.” 

Apart from cosponsoring the bipartisan National Opposition to Hate, Assault, and Threats to Equality Act, or NO HATE Act, to strengthen federal laws that combat hate speech, threats, and attacks and improve national hate crime reporting, Gottheimer also cosponsors the Never Again Education Act — bipartisan legislation to help fund programs to teach children about the Holocaust in schools.

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“[Given] the countless acts of racism and discrimination of Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and of course, Anti-Semitism, I remain as hopeful as ever that we can get there. And while it won’t happen over night, I know that the only chance that we will ever reach the promised land is if we work with one another, not against one another.”

This solution was the consensus that afternoon among the panel of speakers which included the following leaders: Hackensack Mayor John Labrosse, Jr.; Congressman Bill Pascrell; Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton; Assembly members Gary Schaer, Valerie Huttle and Lisa Swain; Bergen County Freeholder Tracy Zur; Imam Mohammad Charaf, El Zahra Islamic Center of Midland Park; Rev. Marilyn Monroe Harris of the First Baptist Church of Teaneck; Rabbi David Fine, Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center, president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis; First Vice President of the Bergen County NAACP Nathaniel Briggs; Pete Stilianessis, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Non-Commissioned Officers Association; Ed Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association; and Rabbi Mendy Kaminker of the Chabad of Hackensack. 

Many leaders quoted the scripture and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. agreeing that “hate has no home” in the northern New Jersey region in which “diversity is encouraged." They also cited the pillars needed to combat such crises which include practicing empathy and educating yourself about how to defuse heated situations to prevent catastrophe and restore peace.   

“It is vital we stand together now more than ever,” said Pascrell. “Our foundational strength as a community is our diversity. Our different backgrounds are diverse beliefs. They help us learn through a new lens. They help us preserve empathy for one another.” 

Pascrell said the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which protects synagogues, churches, mosques and other houses of worship from increasing threats of terror and acts of hate, is what he and Gottheimer have fought to keep strong and expand upon. As an original member of the Homeland Security Committee with Senator Bob Menendez, Pascrell said they have helped grow this program over $90 million. 

Federal funding aside, Pascrell urged members of the community that it is up to the people to “identify those who are most susceptible to the siren call of extremism.”  

“The first line of defense will not come from Washington, D.C. It will be our own towns and our neighbors,” he said. “Defeating this extremist cancer will require the concerted efforts of all of us. This is everyone’s responsibility, not just the congress, not just the president, not just the police. The best way of neutralizing extremism isn’t reacting to it after another attack, but deactivating that boiling rage before it explodes.” 

Bergen County Sheriff Anthony Cureton announced that in the wake of such domestic terrorism, increased patrol has been implemented to “restore a sense of comfort and security to our religious community.” But that’s only half the battle. It’s on the residents, he said, to take action if they see something.   

“The success of any investigation begins with our residents,” said Cureton. “It is more important now that we should ever say see something, say something. And as it has shown in Monsey in that unfortunate incident see something, say something. The rabbi took the initiative of reading the license plate of that vehicle which assisted greatly in law enforcement as far as the apprehension of that young man.” 

He continued, “As our agencies practice to wholeheartedly believe in community policing by engaging our diverse communities to greater social cohesion to force a productive environment for law enforcement and our residents, it is our mission to keep all residents safe and we will continue to do it as we go forward.”

As a response to the recent flurry of hate crimes in the area, The Anti-Defamation League New York/New Jersey and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) announced today at a press conference in Trenton that they would be partnering to “counter all forms of hate in New Jersey at the African American Chamber of Commerce of New Jersey in Trenton. 

Apart from zeroing in on combating all forms of hate and racism in New Jersey, the new partnership will aim to address the use of racist and anti-Semitic stereotypes in public discourse around social justice issues.

In addition, the Bergen County Department of Human Services, division of Alternatives to Domestic Violence, has announced this week it is recruiting volunteers for a regional team to respond to victims of domestic violence at police departments around Bergen County. Volunteers will be trained to offer necessary information and referrals to victims during critical times. 
 
Applicants will be required to consent to a criminal background check, urine test and receive 40 hours of training. Interested persons should visit co.bergen.nj.us/divisions-of-alternatives-to-domestic-violence/get-involved