New York State Attorney General Letitia James spoke to thousands participating in a march against anti-Semitism on the steps of the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola on Sunday.  Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

More than two thousand Long Islanders — wearing yarmulkes, hijabs and baseball caps — walked side by side Sunday to march against anti-Semitism, proclaiming their unity in the face of a rise in hate crimes across the region.

They marched almost a mile together from an intersection near the state Supreme Courthouse in Mineola, down Old Country Road and up the steps of the Nassau County Legislature.

Religous leaders, politicians and community advocates from throughout Long Island then spoke, until the sun set, of their own experiences with anti-Semitism and proposed ways to combat it through education and law enforcement. They urged people to stand together against hate.

“We are all together as human beings to say, there is no room for hate here on our beautiful island,” Nassau County Executive Laura Curran told the crowd.

The march was one of the first events hosted by the Island-Wide Task Force against Anti-Semitism and Symbols of Hate. The group was launched last month to identify ways to combat hate.

It came less than a month after five people were injured when a knife-wielding man, identified by police as Grafton E. Thomas, 37, stormed into the home of a rabbi in an Orthodox Jewish community in the town of Monsey.

Officials also pointed to an increase in reported hate crimes in the state, including graffiti of swastikas found last month at the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve...

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speak after the march on Sunday in Mineola. Credit: Howard Schnapp

In New York City, anti-Semitic hate crimes were up 26% to 234 in 2019 from 186 in 2018 as of a year-end report. Overall, hate crimes were up 20%, the report said.

Last week, some 25,000 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge against anti-Semitism.

Many in the Long Island crowd of 2,500 said they came to show they are not afraid, even at a time when they feel unsafe, and because they wanted to take some kind of action.

“I’m very upset about what has been going on in the world and our country and how there’s a growing rise of anti-Semitism,” Rick Scher, of Dix Hills, said. “A lot of people are here to say stop the hate."

The march kicked off with federal, state and local officials holding the banner "Long Island against Anti-Semitism," walking side by a side with a group from the Islamic Center of Long Island as thousands followed behind them.

Marchers came from across the Island, representing more than 125 religious and community groups. Some, wore tallit — a traditional Jewish prayer shawl — and held Israeli flags and signs saying “Proud to be Jewish” while other marchers held signs quoting the Quran. They were surrounded by Nassau police officers carrying semi-automatic rifles.

Mohammad Rashid, of Syosset, said he walked with the Islamic Center of Long Island to “help all our human brothers” and said it was imperative that people support each other, no matter their backgrounds.

“If any human hurts, we should all feel the pain in our hearts,” Rashid, 56, said.

Ellen Widawsky, of Great Neck, walked with her daughter Alison Widawsky, the youth director at the Plainview Jewish Center, and said she wanted to stop people from acting on anti-Semitic thoughts.

“If you want to hate me, it’s okay to hate me,” Widawsky said. “But please don’t hurt me or throw a machete at me. Just respect me.”

As marchers reached the steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building, many broke out into a harmonic Jewish prayer.

From there, federal, state and local officials spent nearly two hours expressing their commitment to the fight against hate and touting their legislation aiming to help. Those included federal proposals to require Holocaust education in schools and increase funding for security at houses of worship.

State bill proposals included requiring education about symbols of hate in schools and increasing public awareness about antisemitism. Law enforcement officials also pledged to hold hate crime offenders accountable.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, spoke of how Nazis killed 31 members of his family in Ukraine with machine guns. He said history has shown people must “smite” antisemitism “with all our force and all our power.”

“What history has taught us is this: if we speak out, we will prevail. Let us continue to speak out and march,” Schumer said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said the march was “crucial” in the United States, where “every form of humanity exists.”

“If we cannot lead by example here, where is the hope? This gives me great hope we will do much better,” Bellone said of the march.

U.S. Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford), Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) and Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) spoke of coming together, despite their different parties in a highly partisan time, because, as King put it, anti-Semitism “is an attack against our flag and the fabric of our society.”

State Attorney General Letitia James said she came because “I know what it’s like to be discriminated against” as an African-American. She also said it was important to show solidarity, especially because many Jewish people fought in the Civil Rights Movement.

“It was the blood of Jewish people that died for my freedom and your freedom, not just black blood but Jewish blood,” James said. “So we stand together in love recognizing that this, this hate, will not be tolerated on Long Island or in the state.”

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