I have always associated the New York City subway with camaraderie and a sense of togetherness. This past week was no different.
If you haven't seen the story all over the Internet, it goes like this:
Gregory Locke got on the subway in Manhattan and noticed a Swastika on every advertisement and every window. The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do.
One guy got up and said, "Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol." He found some tissues and got to work.
As Gregory tells the story: "I've never seen so many people simultaneously reach into their bags and pockets looking for tissues and Purell. Within about two minutes, all the Nazi symbolism was gone."
Nazi symbolism. On a public train in New York City. In 2017.
"I guess this is the new America," said one passenger. Greg's words: "No sir, it's not. Not tonight and not ever. Not as long as stubborn New Yorkers have anything to say about it."
Of course, we feel the same way here in Marin County! Not as long as we have anything to say about it!
You're not alone if you've been recognizing an uptick in anti-Semitic rhetoric and symbols across the country, including the bomb threats to close to fifty Jewish Community Centers nationwide that we experienced ourselves here in Marin. We've also been hearing reports from schools about students experimenting with hate speech. Statistics bureaus report statistics to back up our personal observations.
We know that many of you are concerned about this rise in public expression of anti-Semitism as we are. At the same time, we have faith that leaning into our community partnerships and relationships, continuing to build bridges of understanding, engaging in dialogue with our public officials and schools, and continuing to raise awareness through education and activism rather than insularity and fear is the way forward at this time. As the incident on the New York City subway demonstrates, shutting down hate takes a communal effort.
When at Hall Middle School last week a student stated "Heil Hit***" to another student, the response was swift and immediate with an email to the entire school denouncing the action and raising awareness.
In a December meeting with clergy from across Marin County, the first item on the agenda was organizing a rapid response team in the case of hate crimes. Pastor Richard Helmer of Mill Valley spoke passionately of his desire to support the Jewish and Muslim communities as the rest of the churches in attendance pledged their support.
Some of the first emails and phone calls we received last month following the bomb threat at the JCC were from the Marin Interfaith Council, Venetia Valley, and our Christian and Muslim neighbors from churches and mosques across the country.
We are working with members of our community to address the anti-Semitic incidents in the school systems, to form a rapid response team to hate crimes, and to continue to build strong relationships with our Muslim neighbors who similarly need our support at this time as they face rising Islamophobia. If you are interested in joining any of these teams, please contact Hagar at [email protected].
As Passover approaches we recall, as we do every year, that the central story of the Jewish people is striving for liberation by standing up against injustice. Of late, we have all been quoting Emma Lazurus' "The New Colossus" but the teaching of hers that should also be in our hearts at this season is: "Until we are all free, we are none of us free." This year we honor these words as we join together in partnership with our community to make it a safer and more loving place for us all.