July 22, 2024
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Gov. Murphy Celebrates Chanukah, Remembers Those Lost in Jersey City

0001On a night when Jews around the world were lighting candles to celebrate the fifth night of Chanukah, state and local leaders gathered in Jersey City with community members to “Shine a Light” on rising antisemitism.

“It is a strong statement about unity here that we stand on the city hall steps in the most diverse city in the United States of America and we celebrate our Jewish brothers and sisters here as we have celebrated every other religion here as a symbol of unity,” said Mayor Steve Fulop, who is himself Jewish. “The story of Chanukah is one of light overcoming darkness, and I think the story of Jersey City over the last couple of years embodies that.”

The December 2 event, hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the Israeli American Council (IAC), was a bittersweet for those gathered as they paused to remember the victims of the antisemitic attack at the JC Kosher Supermarket on December 10, 2019, that left four innocent people dead.

That hate-filled crime spree by two members of an antisemitic offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelites took the life of Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, who encountered them in the city’s Bayview Cemetery. They then drove to the supermarket where they killed Mindel Ferencz, 33, who ran the market with her husband; Moshe Deutsch, 24, a rabbinical student who lived in Brooklyn; and an Ecuadorian immigrant employee, Miguel Douglas Rodriguez, 49. The two perpetrators were also killed.

“Together, tonight, we come together as one community to light the menorah and shine a light on antisemitism and any other form of hate,” said IAC board member and Jersey City resident Tal Shuster in welcoming the crowd.

There was joyful live music and lots of doughnuts, hot chocolate, coffee and dreidels, but the tragedy of two years ago was never far from the attendees’ minds.

Following the dignitaries’ speeches and before lighting the menorah community members held aloft candles and bowed their heads in a moment of silence for the victims.

Shuster thanked Governor Phil Murphy, who later lit the shamash as Israeli Deputy Consul General Israel Nitzan recited the blessings, for his attendance and support of the community as well as that of the large, diverse contingent of law enforcement and state and city leaders gathered in solidarity behind the podium.

Murphy also reflected on the poignancy of the evening’s ceremony celebrating “one of the great holidays, the notion of light triumphing over darkness, something we all look forward to doing each and every year, which has an extraordinary story and legacy that is so applicable and appropriate for us today, and at the same time we have a heavy heart for what happened here two years ago with the hatred against the Jewish community, law enforcement that played out that day.”

Murphy joined other leaders in Jersey City that day in what he called a “remarkable” showing of diversity across racial, ethnic and religious lines, demonstrating “the uplifting reality is that we all came together. Everybody checked their religions, political affiliations, their ethnicities, you name it, at the door and we all came together and were there for each other.”

He told the crowd in closing, “May we all show that Maccabean strength every day.”

ADL New York and New Jersey Regional Director Scott Richman noted that 2019 and 2020 were “historically high” years in the alarming rise of antisemitism with 30 incidents now being reported weekly to his office, calling it “a shanda a and disgrace that is unfortunately not getting better.” 

He added projected 2021 statistics are on track for another disturbingly high watermark. To counter such hate, Richman cited ADL’s “pyramid of hate,” which focuses on stopping hate at its root by tackling hateful or insensitive speech and stereotypes before they ramp up the pyramid to violence such as the “horrific” scenario at the kosher supermarket.

As Richman acknowledged the widows of Seals and Rodriguez, who were both in attendance and lit menorah candles, he said: “The message is, we are all in this together. This is the message that comes across loud and clear from that horrific day two years ago. … It is the message of the Shine a Light campaign.”

The campaign brought together more than 60 diverse organizations globally for the week of Chanukah under the belief “that if you expose hatred and extremism to the light of day it withers and dies,” said Richman.

Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck recalled that he was on his way to Washington with former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal when phone notifications caused them to turn around near the Delaware Memorial Bridge to race up to Jersey City where they spent the night speaking to law enforcement and traumatized community members and meeting with families.

“We came back day after day after day, and the commitment that Gurbir and I made to folks is that we would be here day after day and we would continue to stand up for these communities,“ said Bruck, and “we would not be taken down by those who seek to divide us but that we could still find common ground and overcome hate.”

“The commitment I make to you tonight as New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer is that there is no place for hate in this state,” Bruck said. ‘We will never allow antisemitism to take root here and we will use every single tool to protect this community and every community of New Jersey.”

Federation CEO and Executive Vice President Jason Shames said he was struck by the correlation between the “miracle of Chanukah” and the tragedy of two years ago because “it tells of the story of the Jewish underdogs who rise to the occasion and persevere.” However, the difference today is the “incredible support” of officials and law enforcement to the Jewish community.

“Not everyone is Jewish, and yet every single person has stood with us hand in hand,” he said, ensuring that there is no hate in the state and adding, “from the bottom of my heart” he wanted to thank them on behalf of the Jewish community.

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