A rabbi would ordinarily be ecstatic to have more than 300 people inside his sanctuary on a Sunday afternoon. But the spiritual leader of Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown greeted this crowd with mixed emotions.
“I am thrilled to see all of you. And I am sad to see all of you,” said Rabbi David Holtz.
Holtz led a rivertowns interfaith service on January 5 in solidarity against anti-Semitism. He was joined by pastors from local houses of worship, including the Transfiguration Church, Christ Church, Belvedere Family Church, the Christian Science Church and Foster Memorial AME Zion Church, all in Tarrytown, and the South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry.“
What begins with anti-Semitism often turns into other ugliness,” Holtz said. “And we cannot allow that to happen.”
The service was held amid a spate of incidents in New York and New Jersey in recent weeks that have shaken the area’s sizable Jewish community where anti-Semitic acts, once virtually unknown, have become increasingly commonplace.
For Holtz, the afternoon rang familiar. It was 15 months ago that Temple Beth Abraham held an interfaith service following the attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh that left 11 dead.
“That gathering was really much more about gun violence and the accessibility of these weapons of mass destruction that took the lives of so many of various religions all over the world,” Holtz said. “Today I feel it comes closer to home than it did before.” Ola Nosseir, of the Muslim group Our Common Beliefs, was at the Tree of Life service and, as the victim of several hate crimes in Westchester County, knows that more
than thoughts and prayers are needed.
“I believe strongly that somehow, through love, knowledge and education, we can eradicate hate,” she told the audience, a mix
of temple members and local residents.
They were joined by an array of local officials, including Westchester County District Attorney Anthony Scarpino Jr., Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner and State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who represents the rivertowns.
“We have to send a strong message that we as a community won’t stand for [anti-Semitism] and that we’re better than this,” Stewart-Cousins said.
Also attending was State Sen. David Carlucci, whose district includes Monsey, where five people were stabbed at a rabbi’s
home during a Hannukah party.
“If we’re going to find a way to turn things around, it’s going to be in New York,” Carlucci said after the service. “We have one of the most diverse states. We’ve always been leaders in ensuring we can live in a diverse
community. This is so disturbing to see.”
The service was preceded in the morning by a march of 20,000 people over the Brooklyn Bridge speaking out against hate and fear. Among them was Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced that $45 million in state funds would be made available to help religious-based institutions protect against hate crimes.
Indeed, security has become a top priority at synagogues including Temple Beth Abraham, which has armed guards present for services and when the temple’s religious school is in session. Holtz lamented how
that has become the new normal.
“What bothers me even more that we have a guard is that we’re getting used to it,” he said. “It’s just wrong.”