‘The threat is real’: Easthampton council takes stand against antisemitism with wide-ranging resolution

OWEN ZARET

OWEN ZARET

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 11-16-2023 4:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — At a poignant City Council meeting on Wednesday evening, residents and councilors came together to share stories of antisemitism, hatred and hope in expressing their support for a resolution against antisemitism, which passed unanimously.

Resident Rachel Achmad shared that her circle of loved ones have feared for their safety and felt the impacts of antisemitic sentiment since Hamas’s attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

“A friend of mind no longer wears her star of David necklace outside of the house for fear of being targeted,” Achmad said, adding that another friend’s daughter has received antisemitic messages on her online dating profile; and her own daughter has a friend who was asked by her Uber driver if she was Jewish, to which she felt compelled to lie and say no out of fear.

“It’s so easy to brush off incidents of antisemitism as things that only happen somewhere else, but those ‘somewhere else’s are not far away,” said Achmad.

The resolution — which was first proposed to the City Council in May and involved close collaboration with the Jewish Federation of West ern Massachusetts and the Anti-Defamation League — outlines the history of antisemitism, the Jewish American experience and the importance of speaking out against hate against all people.

It also includes an action plan denouncing antisemitism and calling on elected officials, faith leaders and civil society leaders to use their platforms to confront antisemitism and protect the safety of American Jews. The plan also calls on the city to educate residents about antisemitism through school curriculum and public events, and additionally urges the city to recognize Jewish American History month and Holocaust Remembrance Day, also called Yom HaShoah.

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“When I initially wrote and submitted this I had no idea that we would be in the midst of the worst state of antisemitism here and internationally since Nazi Europe,” said At-Large Councilor Owen Zaret, the resolution’s sole sponsor. “It sounds extreme, but it’s true. Enough is enough. Never again.”

His voice shaking with emotion, Zaret detailed his own family history and experience as a Jewish American — witnessing the need for law enforcement at the synagogue at major holidays; hearing antisemitic slurs at camp; experiencing microaggressions like people telling him he “doesn’t look Jewish;” the list goes on.

In 2022, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported 3,697 antisemitic incidents in the United States, a 36% increase from 2021 and the highest number on record since the ADL began tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

Last year marked the third time in the past five years that the year-end total has been the highest number ever recorded.

And in the month following Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, the U.S. has seen a 316% increase in the number of antisemitic incidents compared to the same time period last year. Between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, the ADL documented 832 antisemitic incidents involving assault, vandalism or harassment, averaging nearly 28 incidents per day.

“Regardless of how we may feel about the war, Hamas or the Israeli government, antisemitism — like Islamophobia and every other expression of racism and bigotry — must be unequivocally condemned,” Nora Goldstein, chief executive officer of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Hate at home

Easthampton itself has seen an uptick in antisemitism, with white supremacist flyers by a Neo-Nazi group left on residents’ lawns and driveways about a month ago.

“The threat is real and members of our community are feeling increasingly vulnerable,” said Stan Schapiro, co-president of the Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton. “Many are anxious even about everyday actions such as dropping off their children at religious school or going to religious services.”

“This resolution, though largely symbolic, takes a strong stand, sends a strong message and goes a long way towards making our community feel supported and heard in this very troubling time,” said Schapiro.

“I love my family, I love being Jewish, and I love this town… but today is a scary time,” said Frank Roberts, vice chair of the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts.

Bobby Naimark, donor impact officer for the federation added, “The introduction of this antisemitism resolution… is not only timely, but crucial for fostering a community that stands firmly against hatred and discrimination.”

Also in attendance was state Sen. John Velis, who recognized a need to stand up against antisemitism human-to-human.

“I am not Jewish, and I am not Israeli,” Velis said. “It is absolutely imperative that we, who are not Jewish, stand up.”

Mayor Nicole LaChapelle said that, in response to recent hate, she and the police department updated the city’s hate crime policy and civil rights policy, which had not been updated since 2020.

She said that the resulting policy — which uses recommended policies on the Department of Justice and the state’s websites — expands what is defined and investigated as hate, provides clear response guidance to officers, and a transparent enforcement policy for residents.

“It is stunning what recent, even before October 7th, what we saw with events against religious and cultural Jews,” LaChapelle said. “It’s insidious.”

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.