For Ithaca’s Jewish community, a time of healing, preparation
After an anti-Semitic hostage-taking incident at a synagogue in Texas earlier this month, faith-based communities in Ithaca and across the country have looked to heal and examine how they arm themselves against hate.
Ithaca residents braved 14-degree weather to sing songs of hope Friday evening, before the start of the Jewish sabbath.
“As we enter Shabbat this week, we enter it together as a community and loudly and proudly say no. We say no to hate,” said Rabbi Ari Weiss, who oversees Jewish student life at Cornell University.*
Christian and Muslim clergy stood on the Ithaca Commons alongside Jewish residents to offer words of comfort. Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman of Congregation Tikkun v’Or in Ithaca said the gathering, in itself, was an act of strength against anti-Semitism.
“This is a community where so many people will come out and stand with each other, and for each other and by each other, in times of difficulty, times of trouble,” Tobacman said. “That’s where our real security ultimately lies.”
Questions of security at places of worship are not new. Tobacman said her congregation has been considering them since 2018, after a gunman opened fire on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 people.
The city of Ithaca also saw a string of anti-Semitic and white supremacist incidents in October 2020.
Factors Tobacman said her congregation has considered include when doors are unlocked and what preparedness training the congregants should get in the event of violence.
“How do we get the training and the awareness and build our consciousness in ways that help us notice when something might be amiss without falling into tropes of bias?” she added.
Tobacman said the synagogue may hold an active shooter training so congregants feel prepared. Weiss said the Cornell University Hillel, a Jewish student organization, will also hold a training on campus on Tuesday.
At the same time, Tobacman said she wanted to maintain Congregation Tikkun v’Or as a space open to all.
“We have many members who aren’t Jews, we have members and non-members who would want to come to our synagogue who are people of color,” Tobacman explained. “We feel like it’s very important to figure out our security in ways that continue our space to be an open and welcoming one.”
Weiss with Cornell University said addressing and uprooting anti-Semitism requires education.
“I think that our work moving forward is to dispel the sort of lies about Jewish people,” he stressed. “That we control the world. That by going into a synagogue, we could go ahead and have a direct line to the president.”
The assailant who took synagogue-goers hostage in Colleyville, Texas did so because he thought President Biden would listen to Jewish people, according to hostage Jeffrey Cohen’s account of the events. Weiss said anti-Semitic tropes like that one have continue to reappear over thousands of years.
Ithaca resident Claudia Voss Lewenstein has addressed those lies, and the history behind them, by sharing her parents’ story. They survived the Holocaust. Voss Lewenstein goes into local schools to talk about their journey out of Europe in 1939.
“You have to stand up, and speak and oppose prejudice and racism and hatred,” she said Friday. “So that’s why I’m here.”