In light of the recent alarming surge in acts of hate crimes across the country, North Salem has strengthened its vow to reject all forms of bigotry and discrimination.
In a resolution passed unanimously Tuesday, Feb. 11, the Town Board declared that its elected leaders will continue to support policies and practices that fight hate.
The town will “make every effort to ensure that our community is one where all people are welcome and included and where all faiths and traditions are respected,” the resolution read.
“We are appalled by anti-Semitic attacks and are resolved that hate will have no home in our community or in any community in the United States of America; our nation was founded on the principals of religious freedom and the right of all people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
It invited other communities “to join forces in insuring that the vile history of anti-Semitism here and around the world ends now and ends here.”
Police are investigating a wave of vandalism last month in nearby Yorktown as a hate crime. A menorah was knocked over at Veterans Field and windows were shattered at St. Patrick’s Old Stone Church and the First Presbyterian Church, as well as at the Yorktown Stage and the John C. Hart Memorial Library.
County Executive George Latimer, saying he was “deeply concerned” about the incidents, directed the county’s Human Rights Commission and the Westchester County Public Safety Department to offer local authorities their help and support. The FBI is also reportedly involved.
As of this writing, no suspects had been identified.
Latimer urged “all residents to stand in solidarity against hate and intimidation.”
“Know that the entire County of Westchester stands with you. Together we must work to teach tolerance and kinship, and let those who want to shatter our unity, and destroy the peace we enjoy, understand that expressions of hate have no home in Westchester County. We will push back in every manner possible to assure that everyone is safe from such hatred.”
COMPELLED TO SPEAK
Although there haven’t been similar attacks in North Salem, town leaders said they felt compelled to speak out.
Councilman Martin Aronchick recalled reading about the horrors of the Holocaust when he was a child and thinking, hopefully, that anti-Semitism and hatred was “something that would never need to be addressed again.”
“And yet, here we are,” he said Tuesday. “So it’s a good thing we are doing—for very unfortunate reasons.”
Pointing to the surge in anti-Semitic and other violent acts “all over the country,” Aronchick added: “It’s a good time to reaffirm our values.”
In Greenburgh, Town Supervisor Paul Feiner is pushing for a more systematic way of gathering data on hate crimes so local officials and police can get a better grip on the problem.
He is also asking the state Legislature to pass a law to set minimum punishments for hate crimes, including menacing emails and graffiti.
Feiner referenced other recent incidents in the region, including Scarsdale and Pleasantville.
Last fall, a White Plains man was convicted of sending threatening anti-Semitic emails to Feiner and his family.
This past Yom Kippur, anti-Jewish graffiti and stickers were discovered at a Holocaust memorial in downtown White Plains, the county seat. Called the Garden of Remembrance, it was built in 1990 by the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center on Martine Avenue.
The problem has escalated to such a point that people need to do more than “just be outraged,” Feiner told a local media outlet.
According to an article in The Legislative Gazette, an Albany weekly devoted to covering politics, 2016 statistics (the most recent available) from the Division of Criminal Justice Services showed that religious beliefs were the most common basis for hate crimes. Of the 311 such crimes reported that year, more than 240 were anti-Semitic and out of a total of 598 hate crimes, only 234 resulted in arrests.
The State Police Hate Crimes Task Force investigated 43 incidents in 2019, according to the Gazette.
According to the Gazette piece, the 16,149 law enforcement agencies taking part in a national Hate Crime Statistics Program in 2017 reported 7,106 single-bias incidents involving 8,126 offenses, 8,493 victims and 6,307 “known offenders.” Of those incidents, 58.1 percent were motivated by race/ethnicity/ancestry bias and 22 percent by religious bias.
In October 2018, an armed man barged into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services and shot 11 people dead. Six others were injured.
Last December, a Jewish grocery store in Jersey City, N.J., was attacked. Six people died.
Meanwhile, a Rockland County grand jury has indicted a man on charges of attempted murder in an attack in Monsey in December. He used a machete to slash and stab five Hasidic men celebrating Chanukah at their rabbi’s house. He is also a suspect in the stabbing of a rabbi walking to synagogue in the same community the month before.
The leaders of Jewish communities in the immediate area have expressed deep concerns and are taking steps to ensure the safety of their congregants, including the hiring of security guards. They are also supporting interfaith togetherness and other measures, such as North Salem’s resolution, which they call powerful tools against hate.
Said Rabbi Shoshanna Leis of the Hebrew Congregation of Somers recently: “We are always fighting anti-Semitism through building our relationships because the best way to fight hate is through love, community building and connection.”