A state Senate committee voted unanimously Jan. 29 to condemn anti-Semitic violence and anti-Jewish bigotry around the world.
Local and national Jewish officials spoke before the five-member Senate State Government, Wagering, Tourism & Historic Preservation Committee, which met in Trenton two days after the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
They thanked the committee for considering the resolution, which referenced the anniversary and current anti-Semitic incidents around the world, including last month’s attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.
“Anti-Semitism is a stain on humanity,” said State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, kicking off some 40 minutes of testimony. “It is a deplorable expression of hatred and bigotry that cannot be ignored and should not be tolerated.”
Supporters of the bipartisan resolution included Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) and Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Dist. 21), along with seven other prime sponsors and 18 cosponsors. It is expected to sail through both houses of the legislature.
The resolution calls for education, unity, and vigilance. “Seventy years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we continue to see increasing incidents and expressions of anti-Semitism throughout the world,” it reads. “From the massacre of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, to the killing of four people at a kosher market, we have seen numerous tragedies marked by hate and violence.”
The measure applauds the American and foreign leaders who have condemned anti-Semitic acts and calls on those who have yet to take firm action against anti-Semitism in their countries to do so. It calls for expanded Holocaust education programs that “increase awareness, counter prejudice, and enhance efforts to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust, genocide, intolerance, and discrimination.”
Committee chair Sen. Jim Whelan (D-Dist. 2) said that he and his wife visited Auschwitz in 2013. “We saw Polish families who wanted their children to be aware of the horrors that happened at Auschwitz and the responsibility Poland had as a country. We left there quite impressed and hopeful about the world.
“Unfortunately,” he added, “now that hope is a little less.”
Philip Kirschner, chair of the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, said the resolution is “particularly meaningful to the survivors of the death camps, the great soldiers who liberated those death camps, and the rescuers who, at the possible cost of their own lives and families’ lives, rescued Jews.”
Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told committee members that the bill “sends a very necessary message to all communities that exist here in New Jersey and hopefully will extend beyond its borders, both nationally and internationally.”
Joshua Cohen, newly appointed director of the Anti-Defamation League’s NJ regional office, said, “This resolution clearly and directly addresses the people of the State of New Jersey to speak out against the recent and disturbing global surge of anti-Semitism and underscores the importance of confronting and combating anti-Semitism.”
He said a recent report by France’s Jewish Community Security Service showed an increase of anti-Semitic acts there from 423 in 2013 to 861 in 2014.
In New Jersey, Cohen said, there were 78 incidents reported to the ADL in 2013. “That represents at least one a week. But the news is not all dire,” he said. “Responsible leadership around the world stood up to condemn the eruption of anti-Jewish hatred.”
Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, said that “with the advent of 24-hour television and social media, many are frustrated as we watch these acts unfold literally before our eyes, but we don’t know what we can do to stop it.”
Roth Gorelick thanked the legislators for speaking out against anti-Semitism. “It is vital that we reaffirm our commitment to stand against hatred and violent extremism. By recognizing and learning from the horrors of the past, we can move forward toward a more just and inclusive society,” she said.
Ryan Lilienthal spoke not only as legislative chair of the American Jewish Committee’s Central NJ Region, but “as someone whose family suffered during the Holocaust in Europe.”
“The resolution before you is a statement of strength,” he told committee members. “It represents not just the resolve to fight anti-Semitism but also to build communities that embrace understanding and diversity.”
Jacob Toporek, executive director of the State Association of Jewish Federations, said his group “was pleased to play the leading role in having the resolution introduced in the Senate and in the Assembly and coordinating the presentation of testimony from so many voices in our community.”
Toporek thanked partners in the Jewish community — the ADL, AJC, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Agudath Israel, Orthodox Union, the leadership of Jewish federations and the network of community relations committees, as well as the NJ Commission on Holocaust Education, the NJ Catholic Conference, and the Lutheran Office of Government Ministry.
There were five senators at the hearing. Aside from Whelan, Peter Barnes (D-Dist. 18) and Steven Oroho (R-Dist. 24) were the only ones to comment after the testimony. Other committee members were Shirley Turner (D-Dist. 15) and Samuel Thompson (R-Dist. 12).