From Our CEO
Fighting Antisemitism
November 3rd, 2023

This past Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray, testifying before Congress, said that antisemitic threats in America had reached “historic levels.”

His testimony came as no surprise.

Since October 7, we've seen people glorifying the brutal massacre of 1,400 Jews. Jewish students on college campuses being physically and verbally threatened. Virulent hate and rampant lies running unchecked on social media. Rallies calling for the world to be cleansed of Israel and Jews.

Which is why, even as we’re intently focused on supporting the immense needs of the more than 200,000 displaced and grieving Israelis, UJA provided $4.5 million in emergency funding this week through our Community Security Initiative (CSI) to bolster security at 400 under-resourced Jewish communal institutions in the New York area.

Created in the aftermath of the Tree of Life massacre, CSI has become a lifesaving community asset, thwarting a planned attack on New York synagogues a year ago. In fact, CSI’s intelligence analysts first uncovered the threats that were just recently made against Jewish students at Cornell, deemed the threats credible, and notified law enforcement.

This week, UJA also supplemented its annual funding to local Hillels, serving 20 college campuses, to strengthen Jewish life, provide legal counsel for students and academics facing harassment, and increase mental health support to ease trauma and anxiety. We must do all we can in this moment to ensure that Jewish students are not deterred from engaging publicly in Jewish life on campus.

But as we well know, antisemitism began escalating in America long before October 7. President Biden cited the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville as the reason he ran for office. In May of this year, the White House released the first-ever “National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism,” which includes detailed action plans to raise awareness of antisemitism and its threat to American democracy, protect Jewish communities, reverse the normalization of antisemitism, and build cross-community solidarity.

UJA has been leading the charge in moving these strategies forward in New York, particularly in the area of education. This week, in a long-planned meeting at UJA, we convened over 100 top federal, state, and city officials — including Assistant Secretary of Education Roberto Rodriguez, Chancellor of the Board of Regents Lester Young, and New York DOE Chancellor David Banks — to discuss what’s needed to address the growing antisemitism in K-12 public and independent schools. How can we ensure that Jewish students feel safe. How can we unteach hate and bigotry, which is something learned, not innate.

The participants — people of many diverse backgrounds and beliefs — came together to discuss specific strategies for creating school environments that have zero tolerance for antisemitism and other forms of hate. I walked away feeling more hopeful that our New York educational leaders truly appreciate the current challenge and are committed to addressing it.

Finally, in these very difficult days, I want to share some inspiration. UJA sponsored a mission to Israel this week for 28 New York rabbis, an experience that was deeply moving both for participants and the Israelis they encountered. One rabbi told me that he feels his “entire rabbinate is going to be transformed from the trip.” Another said, “This trip has profoundly changed me, and I am both ravaged and inspired.”

The rabbis prayed with the families of hostages and attended the funeral of a soldier who fell in Gaza. They visited the extraordinary volunteer center that has sprung up in Jerusalem. They went to the Dead Sea area where each hotel is now occupied by a particular moshav or kibbutz decimated on October 7, in an effort to keep these communities intact. They met with residents of Be’eri — one of the areas most devastated by Hamas — where they cried together.

Please watch this video of the rabbis joined by a group of American olim, lone soldiers, and local rabbis of all denominations, together singing one of Israel’s most poignant songs, Naomi Shemer’s Al Kol Elah (“For All These Things”) — about how we must learn to taste the bitter with the sweet.

The concluding refrain (translated from Hebrew):   

“Over all these things, over all these things
Please stand guard for me my good God
Over the honey and the stinger
Over the bitter and the sweet
Don't uproot a sapling
Don't forget the hope
May you return me, and may I return
To the good land.”  


Shabbat shalom

P.S. As of today, we’ve provided over $38 million to meet urgent needs in Israel and $5.9 million in emergency funding to address urgent needs in New York. A full listing of grants — which will be frequently updated — can be found here.