8.28.20 CEO Letter

My earliest memory of anti-Semitism as a young child was the defacement of my family home’s sidewalk in Yonkers, NY by a neighbor.  Fortunately, apart from that experience, I have generally felt sheltered from this hatred, because we moved shortly thereafter to a community in Long Island with a sizable Jewish population. My college experience was at Dickinson College, and although many classmates had never previously met Jews, they were respectful and curious.  Likewise, I have had primarily positive experiences living in Central PA since the early 1990s.


Volunteering for, and now working at the Federation these past four years, has heightened my awareness of the alarming trends in the rise of anti-Semitism and many forms of bigotry.  During the pandemic, ethnic tensions have risen, particularly after the murder of George Floyd. People are feeling frustrated because they are continuing to encounter hate and injustice, but aren’t seeing progress or solutions. I share this frustration and anger, but also trust in hope and the goodness in people.


On August 10, our community was rocked by depravity when Kesher Israel Congregation’s synagogue was desecrated with swastikas. When I received this horrifying news, my heart sank and sickened. Although, thankfully, no one was physically harmed, the malicious intent behind this evil symbol is clear, frightening, and infuriating.


Thankfully, CRC Co-Chair Marty Brill advocated that we issue a joint community statement. True to form, our amazing community rapidly reached out with wonderful statements of solidarity in time for us to issue nearly four pages filled with two columns from numerous congregations and civic groups the next morning just from outreach to colleagues from the Interreligious Forum and Community Responders Network.  Numerous additional messages of caring and support flowed in afterwards.


I write this to share and remind you that we are supported and we also support our amazing neighbors.  As you learn of hateful acts from national celebrities and figureheads, it is important to distinguish between the bad acts of a few and the warmth and caring which exists in our own community.


Following the incident, I was asked about how to deal with anti-Semitism and acts of hatred. I discussed the importance of speaking up against injustice respectfully and educating people about the true meanings behind the symbols. Regarding the swastika specifically, I referenced educational tools provided by ADL and the U.S. Holocaust Museum.  Though I believe this vandalism was done with intent, there are many ignorant to the facts regarding symbols and tropes. Recently, several celebrities have apologized after receiving education and understanding the full implication of their actions.


Education in schools clearly continues to be crucial. The Jewish Community Foundation of Central PA established a Never Again Holocaust Education Fund to support initiatives in line with PA’s Act 70, an initiative of Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition which encourages our schools to teach Holocaust, genocide, and human rights.  Penn State University is one of the beneficiaries since they created a curriculum for educators.  Paulette Keifer can tell you more about supporting this fund and can be reached at Paulette.keifer@pajewishendowment.org.


The Federation will continue to develop strong relationships in our community, work to counter anti-Semitism and other forms of hate, and provide Holocaust Education.  Please plan on joining us on November 8 virtually or in person at 2:00 pm for our annual Kristallnacht Commemoration.  More details will follow.

I continue to extend my prayers and thoughts to all members of Kesher Israel and everyone troubled by this hateful act. I hope that the individual(s) involved are brought to justice.  Thank you to everyone who reached out to them in solidarity. We are truly one community.

I hope you are well. You can continue to reach me a j.ross@jewishfedhbg.org.