Monday, June 05, 2023

An Israeli delegation, led by the organization Gesher, met with leaders of the Bergen County Jewish community on Wednesday, June 23, at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in Paramus, to express solitary and gain understanding of the recent rise in antisemitic attacks.

Gesher is an organization aimed at facilitating dialogue between the religious, secular and charedi Jews in Israel and connecting with global Jewish communities. Their group of visitors to the tri-state area this week included mayor of Modiin Haim Bibas, deputy mayor of Jerusalem Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel’s head of international relations Shiri Steinhart-Sela, two Israeli reporters and Gesher’s International director JJ Sussman and chair Lt. Gen. Orit Adato.

Rabbi Chaim Poupko of Englewood’s Congregation Ahavath Torah, Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Vered Adoni, Jewish Federation Director of Community Security Jerry Dargan and The Jewish Link publisher Moshe Kinderlehrer were among the community leaders present. They were hosted by the Federation’s CEO Jason Shames and chief of staff Naomi Knopf.

“We’re always used to missions coming to Israel, especially with the recent hostilities,” remarked Sussman at the beginning of the meeting. “When we heard about the rise in antisemitism towards American Jewry, we felt that we needed to come hear firsthand what was going on.”

Adoni spoke about how the New Jersey system handles attacks against Jews, noting that the state has some of the toughest hate crime laws in the country. In 11 years on the job, the “one thing [that] has been consistent” in her unit is Jew hatred. “No matter what Jews do or don’t do, at the end of the day, there is antisemitism,” she said. “Yes, political situations and rhetoric change and can aggravate it more, but it is always there.” Adoni then expanded on how the prosecutor’s office tracks these incidents, even over social media, and works with schools within the districts to combat hate among juveniles.

Later in the meeting, Shames expressed concern that the way surrounding communities have responded to Israeli flare ups with Hamas was “very different.” Forums like school board meetings are now being used to spout anti-Israel rhetoric, and in his opinion the governor was late to respond to the situation.

The conversation lasted over an hour and covered a number of points. Dargan explained to those present how shuls in the neighborhood have upgraded their security in recent years, and discussed the close relationship synagogues in the area have with the local police departments. Adato suggested that maybe a change in approach to antisemitism in youth is necessary, and that combating hate will require a focus on education. She also read a message from Nachman Shai, the Knesset’s newly confirmed minister of diaspora affairs.

The Israelis left the meeting with a deeper understanding of what American Jews are going through, and the connection between Middle East conflicts and antisemitism abroad. “Gesher does not just believe in a one-way bridge,” Sussman told The Jewish Link. “Israel relations with global Jewish communities are a two-way street. That is what peoplehood should look like.”

Elazar Abrahams is an intern at The Jewish Link and the incoming student council president of Yeshiva University’s men’s campus.

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