It is never too early to instill in children the importance of being civic-minded. On Wednesday, September 21, alongside hundreds of police officers, politicians, journalists, community liaisons and representatives, ten grade-eight students represented their yeshivah with maturity and poise. Each year, members of the New York City Police Department (NYPD) hold a “High Holiday” briefing on precautionary and additional safety measures for the Jewish Community.
This year, Police Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell and Mayor Eric Adams hosted a briefing to discuss the connection between the NYPD and the New York City Jewish communities on safety issues in the multitude of Jewish communities, especially the safety issues present during the Yamim Nora’im. The students and chaperones were afforded the opportunity to speak for a few minutes with Councilmember Lynn Shulman, who represents Forest Hills and Rego Park, where a large percentage of YCQ students and their families reside.
The briefing was led off as the police commissioner discussed the increase in police presence and patrols in Jewish neighborhoods, especially during this time of the year. “The NYPD is working vigilantly to rid our city of bias-filled violence. There has been a huge rise on overall anti-Semitic crime in 2022. The Hate Crimes Task Force is working 24 hours a day with clergy and community leaders to deal with disgraceful acts,” said Commissioner Sewell. She wants the citizens of New York to know that the NYPD is taking this seriously. She asked that citizens should come to the police, that hotlines have been set up, and that if they see something, they should not be afraid to report. No form of hate will be tolerated, and all people have a right to feel safe. The NYPD will continue working to make this happen.
The commissioner was followed by words of encouragement, wisdom, and a bit of humor from Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass, NYPD Chief Chaplain. He discussed how people have distorted perspectives on life. If we consider the past few years, it is understandable. The students connected to this as they, too, have lived through and been affected by a deadly pandemic, ongoing public health issues, social upheaval, and economic inflation. Hearing that the issues not only affected them and their families on a small level, but have created social, emotional, and financial troubles across the world, brought these problems into perspective. Rabbi Kass stated, “All of these things have twisted our values. There are truths to understand: One is that no society can survive without effective law enforcement. It is even stated in the Torah. Second is that the NYPD is working to make the promise of America a reality.” He also mentioned that, in a letter written in 1790 by US President George Washington to the Jewish Community in Rhode Island, the President wrote that freedom means nothing without people willing to fight for that freedom. The members of the police, religious leaders, lay leaders, and politicians sitting in this briefing are doing just that. This message is just as timely today, with all of the challenges and threats to our freedom that we face daily.
Jewish leadership recognizes that we cannot celebrate Yom Tov without support and protection from the NYPD. Rabbi Kass noted that we all hail from Avraham, the progenitor of monotheism – the belief in one G-d – and we all have the same hope: peace, justice, and love for the entire world. The YCQ students learned a great lesson. Just as Avraham did not fail in believing that as bad as things are at any moment, Hashem promised a better world, they too learned that as bad as things may be at any given moment, they will not be that way forever. There are people who are fighting to make things better.
Mayor Eric Adams spoke for a few moments, acknowledging that New York City has the largest number of Jewish residents outside Israel. He coined New York City the “Tel Aviv of America.” He spoke on how he understands the importance of these holidays and New York is preparing to keep the city safe. He asked that communities need to be vigilant. “If you see something, say something, so we can partner to be safe.”
The students then got to hear from Deputy Inspector Andrew Arias, the commanding officer of the Hate Crimes Task Force, who noted some startling statistics that put in perspective for the students and all in attendance the importance of lock-down drills and police notification of suspicious activity, including anti-Semitic graffiti, and postings on social media including Tik Tok. He said that just in 2022, anti-Jewish crimes are up 44%. “I learned at this event that it is so important to be informed, and to help inform if we see something, so the police can make sure that everyone I care about is safe,” said Assaf Davidov, grade 8. Extremists view large Jewish gatherings as an opportunity. The NYPD is viewing this as an elevated threat level and will act accordingly with an increase in protection. “It is very important that we get protection, especially near the Jewish Holidays. That is the time when everyone is together, which means a lot more people can get hurt at once,” said Jake Daniel, grade 8. “People who hate would take advantage of this.”
The program closed with an intelligence briefing by Kelli Foy, intelligence research specialist, NYPD Intelligence Bureau. She noted that there are no current reports of any credible threats relating to New York City or Jewish institutions, though the NYPD is preparing and remaining vigilant for any extremist perpetrating acts of violence. In a recent incident in Colleyville, Texas, the rabbi stated that he believes it was the active shooter training that played the biggest role in this incident having no injuries.
The briefing was summed up and closed with the reminder that as partners of the NYPD, every citizen, from children to adults, plays an important role in keeping us safe. This is done through alerting law enforcement authorities to any threats, acts of violence, propaganda, or other acts of hate that you may encounter at synagogues, yeshivos, or any other location. The key to stopping hate is education and support. When grade 8 student Akiva Steinman was asked if he thought the NYPD High Holiday briefing was important, he said, “This was so meaningful and I liked how the NYPD showed how they really care about us and will do what they can to protect us and keep us safe.”