David Rosenberg, the executive director of the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance, told the story of the time he was walking the street with his young son — only to be accosted by a passing driver.
“They slowed down, rolled down their window, and yelled, ‘Free Palestine,’” he said.
Was it antisemitism — or just an everyday fact of life for Rosenberg and so many others of the Jewish faith in New Jersey?
The reality: It doesn’t matter.
The reason: The incident did not happen this weekend. In fact, it happened months before the horrific acts in Israel, when the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel by land, sea and air — not only killing hundreds of soldiers and civilians, but also taking Jewish citizens hostage.
Some are calling the brazen sneak attack a 9/11 moment for Israel. The unfortunate truth, however, is that it is one of many 9/11-type moments for the Israeli people.
It’s the type of event that Rosenberg and others spoke in fear of during an event on antisemitism in May at Saint Peter’s University.
At the time, Rosenberg said the mission of the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance is to make New Jersey a better place and a more comfortable and peaceful place for Jewish professionals to live, work and visit.
“That’s why we felt it’s important to have this conversation, to see how we as a community — the business community — can help combat hate and antisemitism,” he said then.
The need for this discussion has never been greater.
Gov. Phil Murphy and scores of New Jersey officials spoke out against the attack, which has received condemnation from all points of the globe — except those seeking the destruction of the Jewish state.
Murphy said on the platform formerly known as Twitter: “Tammy and I are sickened by the videos and images of Hamas terrorists attacking, killing and kidnapping innocent Israeli civilians in an unprecedented coordinated series of terrorist attacks. We share the pain that so many are feeling today in Israel, New Jersey and across the world.”
Murphy added that the state has been contact with acting Israel Consul General Tsach Saar, assuring him the state will do whatever it can to support the victims and their families, especially those living in New Jersey.
Tammy and I are sickened by the videos and images of Hamas terrorists attacking, killing, and kidnapping innocent Israeli civilians in an unprecedented coordinated series of terrorist attacks.
We share the pain that so many are feeling today in Israel, NJ, and across the world. pic.twitter.com/nxn73zRfsh
— Governor Phil Murphy (@GovMurphy) October 7, 2023
Where do we go from here?
New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin said the state has received no credible threats of violence against those of the Jewish faith, but, as this weekend proved, actions can come at any time. New Jersey, he said, is ready.
“I have been in communication with the 21 county prosecutors and law enforcement leaders across the state,” he said. “While there is no credible threat to safety, law enforcement will be increasing patrols in sensitive areas — particularly houses of worship for both the Jewish and Islamic faiths — and taking other steps, out of an abundance of caution.
“We also call upon New Jersey residents to be extra vigilant, and, if you see suspicious activity, please report it to your local authorities without delay.”
More violence, however, will follow.
Israel already has begun what officials have said will be an unprecedented response to an unprecedented attack.
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) said over the weekend that Israel has a right to defend itself — and that the U.S. will support that right.
“Make no mistake, what Israelis are enduring today, on Shabbat, is an unprovoked war,” he said in a statement. “On the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, Iranian-backed terrorists invaded Israel, and the gruesome images on social media are just a sliver of the reality of terror, violence and havoc wreaked upon the Jewish state.
“Today’s events underscore why I will always stand with Israel — the democracy in the region — and support our partner’s right to defend herself from those who seek her destruction. The U.S.-Israel relationship will remain, as it has for decades, ironclad. It is key to America’s national security.
“We must continue our work to provide Israel with the resources she needs to defend herself from terror, including increased counter-drone capabilities, investment for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems, and additional offensive munitions to preserve Israel’s qualitative military edge.”
The NJJBA event last May in Jersey City attempted to discuss what could be done to avoid the acts of war that occurred this past weekend. Or, at least, prevent them from happening in New Jersey.
The event featured Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the director of the Global Social Action Agenda for the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, and a well-known scholar.
Cooper was asked then what clearly was a prescient question: Could New Jersey, with its rich history of diversity (and embracing diversity), be a place for an antisemitic attack?
Lessons on antisemitism
Renowned Rabbi Abraham Cooper, global activist and historian, brought message of tolerance — and toughness — to a Jersey City event sponsored by the New Jersey Jewish Business Alliance in May.
Cooper said it could — but not necessarily for the reasons many would think.
A diverse population, he said, has little impact if those in it do not take action to fight against hate, an issue as old as time but one that has a new home: the internet and social media.
Cooper said New Jersey’s diversity can come into play in the fight against antisemitism — as long as that diversity is able to do what it can do best: teach.
“The fact that New Jersey has this great diversity has to be grabbed by the adults in the room,” he said. “They have to show the younger generation why it’s a positive thing. If you just say, ‘We got all sorts here, but we don’t mix with them,’ that doesn’t help.
“If a teenager says, ‘I have a synagogue three blocks away — but I’ve never been there,’ or, ‘I know people who are Jewish, but I’ve never been in their homes,’ we are missing an opportunity.”
Those opportunities, Cooper said, were lost during COVID, when Asians were the target of hate.
“As soon as COVID hit, there was an explosion of conspiratorial theories that are usually just hoisted onto Jews — but, this time, they took out that word and put in Asians or Chinese,” he said.
It led to attacks — even murders — of innocent people, even here in the U.S., Cooper said.
Antisemitism is again on the rise. The time to fight it is now, Cooper said then.
“Let’s not wait until there’s a crisis,” he said. “The time for people to sit together and talk about how to improve life here in this community is when you don’t have the megacrisis, when you don’t have all the TV crews. Build out those alliances now, and it will pay amazing dividends in the long range.”
That opportunity is gone. The crisis is here. The lesson remains.