More than a year ago, in the midst of a period of increasing anti-Semitism and violence directed toward Jews, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) decided to close its New Jersey office and subsume it within the newly established New York/New Jersey Region, which covers the state of New York and 14 counties in northern and central New Jersey.
“There are a lot of things that make us take pause and, as an organization, we need to do so much more in New Jersey,” said Evan Bernstein, director of the joint region, who spoke with NJJN in an exclusive interview during the Never Is Now Annual Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate, which took place Nov. 21 at the Javits Center in New York City.
In June 2018, the ADL shuttered its New Jersey office, which was located at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany, and never reopened a N.J. site. The region maintains offices in Manhattan and Albany, N.Y., and has a local tip line to report anti-Semitic and bias incidents: 973-845-2821.
This absence of a local presence occurred at the same time New Jersey was ranked third out of 50 states in anti-Semitic incidents, according to the ADL’s 2018 audit of anti-Semitism that was released in April 2019. Statewide 200 incidents were reported, the most in Bergen County (36), followed by Middlesex (23), Ocean (31), and Union (19). Essex County reported 19 anti-Semitic incidents, and 11 were reported in Morris.
“I think we need to give more resources to New Jersey in the fight against hate,” said Bernstein. “Things are ramping up with the number of incidents we are seeing in New Jersey, with schools, white supremacist groups, and the use of anti-Semitic language in the Trenton and Paterson city councils.”
Alex Rosemberg, the region’s director of community affairs, is the point person assigned to the state. “Alex will likely hear about an incident in New Jersey first and respond the quickest,” Bernstein said.
Bernstein cites the recent merger of N.J. and N.Y. as beneficial because it “allowed us to share resources.” There are 20 staff members in the region and Bernstein said they’re looking to add two more: one in development and one in operations. The operations person will expand the ADL’s educational programs such as “No Place for Hate.”
Ross Pearlson of Livingston, head of the ADL’s New Jersey Advisory Board of 20 members, said the merger has improved ADL services in the state.
“We felt there was a period, over a few years, where we were sort of disaffected, to be honest, because we didn’t feel we were getting the resources or the attention we needed in New Jersey,” he told NJJN. “There was a reduction in the staff of our New Jersey office, then we lost our office.” Pearlson, an attorney, is co-chair of the litigation group at Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi in West Orange.
“Now, in New Jersey, our support is so much more robust than in the past in that we’ve been integrated with New York, have access to those resources, and are active participants,” he said, adding that he pushed for local representatives on the regional board, “so New Jersey would have input and feel everything is much more stable.”
Two representatives from New Jersey — Pearlson and Roy Tanzman of Woodbridge — serve on the 23-member New York/New Jersey Regional Board. In July, the New Jersey Advisory Board launched the Signature Synagogue program, which is a pilot program exclusive to the New York/New Jersey region. For a $750 registration fee, synagogues receive access to ADL programs, resources, and learning opportunities, creating a central location for community education that will enable congregants to better respond to anti-Semitic and bias incidents.
“These synagogues have become outposts of the ADL and fighting hate in New Jersey,” said Pearlson.
So far six synagogues in the Greater MetroWest area are participating: Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford, Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, Oheb Shalom Congregation in South Orange, and B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills.
ADL touts its N.J. educational programs and law enforcement training. According to the ADL, it trained 275 law enforcement officials and reached nearly 1,000 individuals through its educational programming in 2018.
The organization also aided in the establishment of a Holocaust education curriculum in the Summit Public School District following several incidents of swastikas found in girls’ bathrooms.
One successful national ADL program that could further benefit New Jersey more is “No Place for Hate,” an anti-bias educational program that aims to make schools free of bullying, hatred, and bias. Dozens of N.Y. schools participate, but only six in New Jersey. The program, now in its 20th year, is offered to schools in this region free of charge and is run through ADL’s education department.
Bernstein told NJJN the new hire will boost Garden State participation.
“The new person, who will be trained by our education people, will be a huge help in visiting schools and growing the program,” he said. “That is something we definitely want to see. Young people are important to what we are aiming to do.
“A key is proactive education.”