By Laura Lavine, Syracuse Hebrew Day School, Head of School,
Rabbi Joshua Lookstein, Westchester Day School, Head of School,
Rabbi Baruch Rothman, Yeshiva Darchei Torah, Director of Institutional Advancement
Dialogue and demonstrations are not enough. These days, there is too much anti-Jewish brazenness for a few words of wisdom to change the tide. We need concrete action to protect and secure Jewish communities in New York.
Anti-Semitic violence affects every sector of the Jewish community and it is getting worse. Since 2020, anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City increased by 50 percent.
Sadly, we don’t need the statistics to know the reality. We see the swastikas painted on homes, playgrounds, and sidewalks. We hear the shouts and curses spewed at so many of us, especially those who proudly wear a kippah, black hat, beret or sheitel. We never know when we might encounter someone ready to spit on our children or throw snow in our faces. Or worse, someone eager to violently attack us in our neighborhood – on the street, in a kosher grocery store, while our children learn in school or we pray in synagogue.
The threats are daunting. As school leaders with decades of experience teaching and inspiring students, our first instinct is to expand our education efforts. It would be gratifying if spreading the right messages about Jewish history, religion and culture and setting the record straight on Israel and Zionism could be our magic bullet.
Unfortunately, though, even the most engaging lesson plans and wide-reaching resources are not enough to combat the deep hatred for Jews and Israel permeating our society. The attacks are just too dangerous, too frequent and growing too quickly.
This urgency particularly affects community institutions. Jewish day schools and Yeshivas have to prioritize safety. But security systems, qualified guards, staff trainings, and other critical safety measures are expensive. With parent and school budgets already strained by the unexpected costs of the COVID-19 pandemic, our schools need help to afford the basic necessities to keep staff, students and families safe.
Teach NYS, the advocacy arm of the Orthodox Union, bridges this gap between what nonpublic schools need and what they can afford. Through building strong partnerships with schools and state and local governments, Teach NYS helps create affordable solutions that address a range of challenges, including security.
Teach NYS partners with Jewish day schools and Yeshivas throughout New York, including all five boroughs, Long Island, Westchester, Rockland County, and even Syracuse and Rochester. These schools represent the full spectrum of the Jewish community in New York, from all-boys’ Yeshivas to community day schools.
Teach NYS brought us all together to sign a letter publicly thanking Governor Kathy Hochul and her team for their leadership, policies and tangible support for security measures. We also expressed our support for Governor Hochul’s proposal to triple funding for the Nonpublic School Safety Equipment (NPSE) Grant program – from $15 million to $45 million.
The NPSE program is one of the most crucial measures facilitated by Teach NYS advocacy to New York State. NPSE reimburses Jewish and other nonpublic schools for safety expenses with funds from the state budget. It also allows schools greater flexibility in how they use the funds. For example, after criminals hacked into one Jewish day school’s website, the New York State Legislature allowed schools to use NPSE funds for cybersecurity.
Teach NYS advocacy also encouraged New York State leadership to increase funding for the Security Communities Against Hate Crimes grant program. This program boosts security measures at nonprofit organizations at risk of hate crimes. It not only supports schools, but it also protects camps, Jewish community centers and synagogues.
Perpetrators of hate crimes do not distinguish Jews by what shul they go to or what neighborhood they live in. To those who hate us, all Jews are the same. If we want to safeguard our schools and protect precious lives, we must work together.
In truth, there is no magic bullet when it comes to combatting anti-Semitism. But partnership and action make a strong combination. Right now, it’s the best defense we’ve got.