You are not alone. We stand with you. We will work to keep you safe.
That was the message over 1,400 Jewish community members heard from Minnesota officials and community allies at yesterday’s “Minnesota: No Hate. No Fear.” rally against anti-Semitism held at the Temple Israel synagogue in Minneapolis.
“You have my pledge…[that] the authority that I have, and the resources of the entire state of Minnesota, will be brought to bear [so] that every single one of you can feel safe in your community, safe in your schools, safe in your worship, and safe in your lives,” Gov. Tim Walz said. “There’s no room for fear, no room for hate.”
The rally was organized as a response to months of ongoing attacks on Orthodox Jews in the New York City area. The attacks have ranged from verbal abuse and physical assaults, to a shooting at a kosher grocery store that left five people dead in Jersey City, N.J., and a machete-wielding man stabbing Jews at a Hannukah party in Monsey, N.Y., who hospitalized five people.
Both the store shooting and the Hannukah attack occurred in December, and both have served to deepen the conversation around anti-Semitism in America.
In contrast to the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue shootings – in which 12 Jews were collectively killed by white perpetrators tied to a common white supremacist ideology – the December attacks were perpetrated by African Americans with no common ideology. (The store shooters were linked to an extremist fringe group of the Black Hebrew Israelites, while the machete-attacker regularly googled “Why did Hitler hate the Jews” and is said to have a severe mental illness.)
Steven Belton, president and CEO of the Twin Cities Urban League, an African-American advocacy organization, made a point of encouraging African-American and Jewish solidarity despite the identities of recent attackers when speaking at the rally.
“There are some who would isolate the fact that the perpetrator of the horrific stabbing in Monsey, New York, was an African American man…and try to use it as a cleave to divide us further,” Belton said. “But I say to you tonight: That’s a distraction…I want you to remember what we have in common. I want you to remember tonight that we stand together, and not apart, and that we are stronger together.”
Participants and speakers in the rally represented a broad cross-section of the Jewish and Minnesota community.
The presence of Democratic Gov. Walz and Republican State Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka lent a bi-partisan weight to the evening. More than two dozen clergy from a variety of non-Jewish faiths and denominations came to support the Jewish community and read a prayer together.
A stage shared by Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Chabad rabbis (and a rebbetzin) painted a picture of Jewish unity despite communal differences. The various rabbis spoke with a unified message: That being Jewish means more than just standing up against anti-Semites; it means living a Jewish life.
And almost every major Jewish organization in Minnesota co-sponsored the rally alongside the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, which was the primary organizer of the event, bridging communal agendas and politics.
“For us in the Jewish community, this evening is one of unity like we have never seen before,” said Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman, senior rabbi of Temple Israel, as she opened the event on Tuesday. In the uptick of anti-Semitism, our nation must stand together, and of course, solidarity is our best security.”
Concern Over Representation
Though the rally provided communal unity, there were concerns throughout the planning process that it wasn’t representative enough of Orthodox Jews.
Some people were uneasy that no Orthodox organizations signed on to co-sponsor the rally, given the purpose of the event. And as the rally was quickly proposed and planned out over the course of Shabbat this past weekend, the Shabbat-observant Orthodox community was not able to help organize the event.
At the same time, there was a want in the non-Orthodox Jewish community to respond to the New York-area attacks, and to do so in the same timeframe as a high-profile march against anti-Semitism (also titled “No Hate. No Fear.”) that gathered over 25,000 people in New York City on Sunday.
“I’ve been very torn on the best way to do this event,” said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, who spoke with TC Jewfolk before the rally. (Mrotz was a speaker at the rally, and JCA co-sponsored). “I don’t like doing things that don’t center the people most directly impacted, but I know Jews from all over the spectrum are asking for a response.”
Concerns about representation were alleviated later in the rally’s planning process by the fact that several of the speakers were Orthodox.
Rabbi Joshua Borenstein, executive director of Minneapolis’ Torah Academy, was cautious about the issue of representation when reached by TC Jewfolk before the rally Borenstein spoke in a pre-recorded video as he was traveling during the rally.
“I would hope that we’re not looking at this in a lens of ‘who are we supporting,’ as opposed to an issue of protecting our community and our fellow community members.” Borenstein said. “I think you can ask the question of, if someone is trying to advocate on someone’s behalf, have they asked that person whether this is the way they want to be advocated for – I think that’s a fair question. There probably is some of that disconnect going on…I don’t believe leaving out or ignoring, just disconnect in approach.”
The Orthodox Jewish community prefers to have a more religious or “spiritual” response to anti-Semitism, rather than putting on public rallies. Borenstein also emphasized that the community has been focused on dealing with security needs by communicating with elected officials and running trainings, with few plans for a public reaction to the attacks in New York.
Despite the difference in approach in the Orthodox community when it comes to the rally, “if people…get more involved because of it, then I think that that’s great,” Borenstein said.
Communal unity is important, but the work of addressing anti-Semitism and keeping the Jewish community safe is ongoing.
The “Minnesota: No Hate. No Fear.” rally comes as Minnesota is gearing up for its legislative session, which begins February 11. Among the various bills proposed for this year is legislation “to improve how Minnesota responds to hate crimes,” said Ethan Roberts, the JCRC’s director of government affairs. (Roberts is on the board of Jewfolk, Inc., TC Jewfolk’s parent organization.)
At the moment, Minnesota has no clear legislative framework for keeping track of and prosecuting hate crimes. Roberts says that attendees of the rally and Jewish community members should use their sense of unity as a jumping-off point to advocate for change.
“People should be letting their state representative know, and their state senator know, that this [hate-crime legislation] is important to them. And not just as Jews, but as Minnesotans,” Roberts said. The way that this legislation is going to work…it will be about all hate crimes and how we need to do a much better job of understanding what is a hate crime, and how to work with law enforcement to address it.”
Walz said that he met earlier on Tuesday with Gazelka and Minnesota Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman, who was in attendance at Temple Israel, to discuss the legislative session.
“What we do can lead us to the path and model for the children that are here that there is decency and common humanity that will prevail that we will not let this stand,” Walz said. “That we will not let differences, whether they are racial, ecomonic, religious or political, divide us from the common idea that each person has the birthright and dignity to live in peace.”