Anti-Semitism Forum Draws Hundreds


More than 300 people from all corners of Judaism in Northeast Philadelphia skipped the first half of the Eagles-Cowboys game and instead came out to Politz Hebrew Academy on Sunday night for a community forum to discuss recent incidents of anti-Semitism in the area.

Joined by law enforcement officials, local politicians, as well as District Attorney Seth Williams and Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross, the rabbinic leadership of Northeast Philadelphia from all synagogues in the neighborhood gathered to explore how to ensure safety and security for everyone.

Pamphlets detailing safety measures against anti-Semitism for children in schools and neon yellow safety sashes the color of crossing guard vests were laid out on tables in the entryway for attendees to take home.

Starting off the forum, 7th District police chaplain Rabbi David Kushner — who spearheaded the event, which was sponsored by the Jewish Community of Rhawnhurst (JCOR), the Rothenberg Law Firm, Joseph Levine & Sons and The Community Security Initiative — spoke about the importance of looking forward and not dwelling on past incidents.

The event was something that Kushner had long been contemplating, but it was a recent incident that kicked it to the forefront.

Three weeks ago, three teenage boys were walking home from Shabbat services along Morefield Road when a passenger driving by shouted anti-Semitic slurs out the window. The incident ended in a physical altercation, though not all details are known.

As of yet, the incident has not been ruled either specifically anti-Semitic or a hate crime, Kushner said, but it nonetheless sparked concern from members of the community who wanted to speak up about the occurrence.

While these kinds of incidents should be reported every time so that the police are aware and allocating resources properly, there hasn’t been a high number of anti-Semitic crimes in the Northeast in recent years, according to Inspector Benjamin Naish.

He mentioned that while some parts of the Northeast saw a “significant bump” in crime last year, numbers are down and the area is “on the right track.”

“The issues of safety and security are a quality of life issue that is in the forefront of everybody’s mind. The sharp rise in global anti-Semitism has not been something we are immune to on a local level,” Kushner said in his opening remarks, citing past instances of anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism that have popped up in the area. “Thankfully, we have not yet seen or experienced any major disasters in our area.”

Kushner emphasized the point of the forum was not to “harp on past incidents,” but to instead look forward and work together as a community.

He teamed up with members of local police districts to help put this event together in just two weeks — mainly Capt. Michael Gormley of the 7th District, whom Kushner said wanted to get to know the Jewish constituency in the area.

Richard Simon, community relations officer of the 2nd District, said the forum was important so the community knows how to respond in these situations and be aware of the support from the local law enforcement.

“We have a great community, and I just hope that we have a sense of peace and calm, and hopefully the community is aware that all the safety resources and the police are out here for the community to keep them safe,” he said.

Each member of law enforcement stressed during a question-and-answer portion of the event that no matter how small the incident, it should be reported to the police.

The high attendance of the forum stood out to many of the speakers as a testament of the strength of the community. It was a “wonderful sight” for Deputy Commissioner Ross to see such a large turnout.

“When you get this type of attendance, it is so impactful because it reverberates around every area of the city,” Ross said. “When you galvanize together and you work together in a manner like this, it will ultimately make our streets safer. It is important that you continue to do exactly what you are doing here tonight.”

He stressed the importance of maintaining the relationship with the police.

“The collaboration we have with everyone here today is something that’s real,” he said. “Irrespective of what the issue may or may not be, when we see this type of response, it really does touch our hearts because it makes our job that much easier.”

The turnout and passionate response from the community was one reason District Attorney Williams loves Philadelphia.

“It’s because everyone in their neighborhood cares about their neighbors,” he said, adding the testimony of that was evidenced by the large crowd. “It behooves us all to work as a community.”
Other guests included Capt. Michael Gormley of the 7th District, who worked with Kushner to help put this together and bring in the enforcement officials; Capt. Thomas McLean of the 2nd District, PA State Sen. John P. Sabatina, Jr. (D-5); PA State Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-172); and PA State Rep. Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202).

Each participated in several question-and-answer sessions throughout the evening, which included questions about the difference between an “anti-Semitic incident” and a hate crime, as well as how to increase security around synagogues so those going will feel safe.

Nancy Baron-Baer, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, offered advice on ways to respond to “anti-Semitism, racism and any other kind of -ism you can imagine,” including to “keep a cool head, don’t jump to conclusions, don’t jump on the person.”

She emphasized that it is “much better to call the police” when an incident occurs.

For members of the community, it was a chance to come together and show “solidarity” for each other, according to Gita Farbman from the Greater Northeast area.

She came to the forum to “show solidarity with the community, the police officers, the rabbanim, and the people.”

The biggest lesson she learned from the forum — which was reiterated by many of the officers who spoke — was to “call 911.”

While many may have thought they had to specifically call the police captains, officers reiterated to first call 911 in the case of an incident, though they can still reach out to captains.

Ken Patkin, from Rhawnhurst, wanted to come to the forum because the security of the area is an important issue for him.

“It’s very important. The city — the Northeast, the Jewish community in particular — is something I’m concerned about,” said Patkin, a member of B’nai Israel. “What the police are doing, and any way I can work with police and make the area more secure” will only help make the community better and safer.

He noted that he has not seen a large police presence in the area, whether that’s because other areas have more “major” issues than the Northeast, but he hopes that after tonight the police make the northeast a priority.

Even non-Jews from the area came out to show their support, like Douglas Jamieson, whose neighbor — who is Jewish — brought him to the forum.

Though he hasn’t seen too many anti-Semitic instances as in years past, Jamieson acknowledged that it “could be a problem again if not hailed properly.”

“Communities need to come together and stick together on issues,” he said.

Overall, Kushner was very happy with the turnout and the positive response from the crowd — which was evident by how many people stopped him on their way out to thank him and tell him what a good job he did putting it together.

“The ultimate litmus test of the success of tonight’s program is not what happens tonight — it’s the follow-up and the follow-through on tonight,” he said after the event concluded.

He added that he hopes the forum, which he said served as more of a “general” discussion, will lead to more discussion with the police about specific issues. “Tonight was an unbelievable start to that.”

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