Clergy are first-responders to anti-Semitism

Clergy are first-responders to anti-Semitism

Rabbi Marc Kline of Monmouth Reform Temple has been waging a war against hate for decades. While holding a pulpit in Florence, S.C., he worked with the Southern Poverty Law Center to win a $38 million lawsuit in 1998 against the Ku Klux Klan for burning a black church three years earlier. “[The church was] able to take possession of the building in the settlement,” said Kline, who came to the Tinton Falls congregation in 2014.

While a rabbi in Lexington, Ky., he was part of a group that successfully prevented the KKK from marching.

Now he’s employing his seasoned activism in the Garden State, which has experienced several anti-Semitic incidents in recent months. Among them was the August distribution of fliers from the Loyal White Knights of the KKK found in three locations in Red Bank.

“Enough is enough,” Kline said to himself when he heard about the Red Bank fliers. “It’s not just the Klan. It’s the whole system that made people tolerate the hate,” he told NJJN.

In response, he started the “No Hate at Home” campaign with the Red Bank Human Relations Advisory Committee, a municipal citizens group, and is in the process of scheduling community forums and distributing yard signs stating, “No Hate at Home” in English and Spanish. He has reached out to representatives from Little Silver in Monmouth County and hopes to spread the campaign to other communities.

“It’s not just anti-Semitism that’s on the rise,” said Kline. “I see all kinds of hate in the social justice work I do. Certainly, it’s against Jews, but I still hear people joking about Obama being a Muslim from Kenya. It’s ugly. Our Jewish tradition says we are all equal and should all be treated the same.”

He made his remarks against the backdrop of a spate of hate incidents throughout the state. In September, anti-Semitic graffiti was found on the Hampton home of supporters of Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-Dist. 5). Swastikas were painted on the garage and on a Gottheimer campaign sign, which also was defaced with vulgar language. Similar slurs and messages were spray-painted on the street outside the home.

Cantor Rebecca Zwiebel, spiritual leader of B’nai Shalom of Sussex County, was among religious leaders who spoke at a candlelight vigil, “Love Wins,” held Oct. 4 on the Newton Green, in reaction to the hatred directed at the home of Gottheimer’s Hampton supporters.

“We all came together united and to show our strength,” said Zwiebel, who said that 75-100 people attended the vigil that was organized by other faith groups, including First Presbyterian Churches of Newton and Franklin, Sussex United Methodist Church, Christ Episcopal Church of Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, and more.

“The theme of the vigil was about love, and for my part I spoke about our large prayer in the center of our service, the Amidah, which is a prayer of peace, and that we cannot have peace without love. I asked for a moment of meditation and silence and then I sang ‘Oseh Shalom,’ a song of peace.”

Since the summer, anti-Semitic fliers have been posted by white supremacist groups in several towns, including Long Branch, Basking Ridge, Somerset, and Watchung. In August of last year, fliers headlined “Hate Facts with Hitler” were found in Asbury Park from the organization Vanguard America, which bills itself as a group for “White Nationalist American youth working to secure the existence of their people.” A month later, vandals spray-painted “Kill Jews,” “Heil Hitler,” and “WPWW,” an acronym for white power worldwide, on the Airport Diner in Wantage.

Alexander Rosemberg, associate director of ADL’s New York/New Jersey Regional Office, said the organization does not “attribute white supremacist activity exclusively to an anti-Semitic motive.”

“I think there’s a permissiveness that’s created by national rhetoric that’s given way to certain groups coming out of the woodwork,” said Rosemberg. “We continuously say the level of anti-Semitism is where it’s always been, at 12 to 14 percent.”

However, Rosemberg said, “every single case of extremism, every single case of anti-Semitism needs to be called out.”

October’s incidents include anti-Semitic flyers distributed in Watchung, a swastika etched into a bathroom in the Franklin Elementary School in Westfield, and racist and anti-Semitic graffiti on Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.

“We continuously say it’s not OK for this to be normalized and can’t be tolerated by Americans,” Rosemberg said, adding that the ADL is supporting students in planning the student-led rally to be held Oct. 16 at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School, and is closely monitoring the situation.

According to Kline, the outward displays of hate and anti-Semitism are encouraged by President Donald Trump.

“I think the president is blaming Jews for being the enemy of the Republican party,” he said. “When you say George Soros is the embodiment of evil, you find people on the right blaming Jews,” he said in reference to Soros, a Jewish billionaire known for supporting liberal causes, and chair of the Open Society Foundations.

“I think the president is being overtly inflammatory and inciting violence on the fringes. When it comes from the top, it spreads.

“That being said, there is also anti-Semitism on the left as well, and normal people on both sides of the central spectrum are caught in the middle.”

Kline added, “It’s time to admit we have misused each other, and we have to normalize the conversation.”

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