Jews protest anti-Semitism in Takoma Park and New York

People gather in Takoma Park for a vigil against anti-Semitism on Sunday. Photo by Lloyd Wolf

Nearly 500 people gathered in Takoma Park on Sunday night holding signs saying “Defeat Darkness With Light” and “Light, Love, and Liberty,” to protest recent violent attacks on Jews in Monsey, N.Y., and Jersey City, N.J.

Men, women and children, many wearing kippot and Stars of David, sang Hebrew songs and danced in the cold air.

Riley Blay, 8, and his brother, Micah, 11, were there with their mother, Dana Marlowe. It wasn’t their first rally, she said, but it was their first Jewish one.

Riley said he was “mad” about what had been happening in New York. Micah said coming to Takoma Urban Park was the right thing to do. “I feel a little hopeful too,” he said. “[It’s] maybe a little scary, but I feel good doing this.”

Many Jews who attended the event said they were nervous about the rise of anti-Semitism.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told the people gathered at the rally that fighting against anti-Semitism isn’t enough.

“What is the meaning of life if we stand up only for ourselves?” he said. “We must stand up for the African Americans under attack in Charleston, the LGBT community under attack in Orlando and the Hispanic Americans who were assassinated in Texas. We must stand up for everyone who is under attack.”

Several local activists organized the rally in less than a week. “We just took off running,” said organizer AJ Campbell. “We’ve had tremendous support from the community.”

Twenty-one organizations and synagogues became co-sponsors.

Earlier Sunday, 150 people from the Washington area took three buses to New York City to join 25,000 others who marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and held a rally to protest rising anti-Semitism in and around New York City.

The march, and the vigil in Takoma Park, followed a spate of attacks on Jews — including, most recently, a stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in the New York City suburb of Monsey and a shooting in a Jersey City kosher supermarket that claimed four lives. There has also been an unending stream of verbal and physical assaults on Jews in neighborhoods of Brooklyn with large Orthodox populations.

“We decided we had to be a part of the march,” said Ron Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “As the third largest Jewish community in the U.S., we had to stand up and be counted.”

Rabbi Deborah Cohen of Beth Chai Humanist Jewish Congregation brought her two sons, ages 9 and 11.

“It was really inspiring to be there with so many other Jewish people and also allies of the community,” she said. “When I heard about it, I felt it was something I had to be at.”

“The biggest part was the diversity of the Jewish community that was there,” Federation CEO Gil Preuss said on Monday. “It’s important at a time when politics divide America so significantly.”

The New York rally, organized within a week and endorsed by the New York Times Editorial Board, drew throngs of Jews from the state, which is home to nearly 2 million Jews.

And the march included the state’s most senior politicians, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Chuck Schumer (D), who is Jewish.

“What has happened in Brooklyn, what has happened in Monsey, New York, was an attack on every New Yorker and every New Yorker has felt the pain,” Cuomo said ahead of the march. “Racism and anti-Semitism is anti-American and we have to remember that. It is ignorant of our history because to know the history of the Jewish community is to love and appreciate the Jewish community because New York would not be New York without the Jewish community.”

Despite the somber reason for the march, the atmosphere was relaxed and even uplifting. Scores of Jews traversed the bridge, singing and stopping to take selfies amid the occasional chant of “No hate, no fear” — the rally’s slogan. People chatted about television shows, which kosher restaurant they would choose for lunch and how many pounds they were dropping on the mile-and-a-half walk.

Back in Takoma Park, Ronni Ticker, of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, said that the attacks felt “deeply personal. I wanted to lend my voice and my presence to something that is very important.”

Sam Baltimore had dressed up in as much Jewish paraphernalia as he could. He was wearing a tallit, kippah, a T-shirt from a Jewish organization. Even his tote bag had Jewish symbols on it. He said he wanted to show he wasn’t afraid to be visibly Jewish.

“The rise in anti-Semitic attacks against our community and especially the most visibly Jewish members of our community who are often Orthodox, have been pretty devastating,” he said. It’s good we have a way to express the anguish and express the pain we feel,” he said.

“We’ve got to continue working on this,” Preuss said Monday. “This is still just the beginning. Anti-Semitic acts have been growing for years [so], for us to turn it around it is going to takeseveral years.”

Ben Sales of JTA contributed to this article from New York.
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