Connecticut's Jewish Leaders: 'We Have An Obligation To Keep Our Communities Safe' | Connecticut Public Radio

Connecticut's Jewish Leaders: 'We Have An Obligation To Keep Our Communities Safe'

Jan 2, 2020

A recent stabbing at a Hanukkah gathering in New York has local leaders in the Jewish community worrying about acts of anti-Semitism taking place in Connecticut.

The group, which included executives of Jewish nonprofit groups, shared these concerns with the state’s two Democratic U.S. senators during a roundtable discussion Thursday at the Greater New Haven Jewish Community Center.

“Those of you that have traveled abroad and visited Jewish communities abroad, you go to a synagogue or a Jewish space and it’s a fortress,” said Judy Alperin, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. “I used to walk to those places and think, ‘How sad is that?’ The reality is that in America today, that’s what we’re confronting.”

American nonprofits have access to $90 million a year in federal money to help defend at-risk populations from hate crimes. Local groups see just a small portion of that -- between $200,000 and $600,000 -- because Connecticut is considered a “lesser risk,” according to a member of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s office. 

The Anti-Defamation League says acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in Connecticut. With that in mind, local nonprofits now carry the financial burden of trying to protect people at Jewish gathering places.

“Just in preparation for this meeting, we had to hire two levels of extra security for budgets that don’t have the capacity to afford it because we have an obligation to keep our communities safe,” Alperin said.

Steve Ginsburg, director of the Connecticut region of the Anti-Defamation League, told others participating in the roundtable that in 2018 alone, there were 1,879 anti-Semitic incidents nationwide, compared with 942 in 2015.

“Regardless of what background you come from, if your circumstances aren’t what you want them to be and you’re someone who’s looking to blame someone else, unfortunately for millennia, it has been very convenient to blame the Jewish people,” said Ginsburg. “We are seeing -- particularly in New York and New Jersey with the level of assaults -- that we need to be much more creative and assertive.”

The roundtable took place less than a week after a violent crime in Monsey, New York, where authorities say Grafton Thomas, 37, invaded a Hanukkah gathering and stabbed five people.

When asked directly about money that could be used to safeguard Jewish day schools, community centers and synagogues, Blumenthal said it will take bipartisan support.

“Hate has no place in America, and hate has to be fought by everyone -- regardless of party, race or religion,” Blumenthal said.

He did hint that the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump could get in the way of any federal bid to secure more money to fight hate crimes.

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy stressed the urgency to get it done by the next budget window.

“I would say that I think there’s a very good chance we’ll be able to get a major increase in this account,” Murphy said. “I do not think it can wait.”