The annual Government Relations Legislative Breakfast had particular urgency for Westchester Jewish community leaders and volunteers, given the current uncertainty about the national political landscape, and how decisions made in Washington, D.C., will affect local Jewish organizations.
“It’s been a challenging few months for the Jewish community because of anti-Semitism and acts of terror,” said Paul Warhit, president of the Westchester Jewish Council. “I’m proud of how the Jewish community has taken part in the response, along with the DA’s office and the support of our 43 local police departments.”
The March 31 event, co-sponsored by UJA-Federation of New York and the Westchester Jewish Council at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison, a Conservative synagogue, included comments from Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, among others, reiterating their strong support for Israel and their efforts to protect domestic issues, like health care, child care and the environment.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino encouraged the audience to take advantage of the county’s resources to assess security threats and develop appropriate steps to protect their organizations.
“These hate crimes are despicable,” said Astorino. “You do have an ally with me and with the county legislators. We’re all in this together.”
The breakfast featured Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, who discussed recent threats to institutions like the JCCs and the appearance of swastikas on school and college campuses, among other concerns.
Scarpino acknowledged the “recent uptick in anti-Semitic acts,” with eight such crimes for 2016 and 10 incidents so far for 2017.
The Feb. 27 threats against JCCs nationally, including the JCC on the Hudson and the JCC of Mid-Westchester in the county, reflected “the fifth wave of threats since the beginning of 2017,” said Scarpino. “We take these matters very seriously. We recognize the fear and anxiety when swastikas appear on properties.”
He explained that the statutes relating to hate crimes — incidents, for example, involving swastikas, nooses or cross-burnings — elevate those crimes to felonies.
Still, Scarpino cautioned, “What looks to be an incident with the trappings of a hate crime may turn out to be bad manners or just plain stupid.”
The revelations that the threats to the national JCCs had been made by an 18-year-old Jewish Israeli, and law enforcement determined the local JCC threats were made by a copycat from the Midwest, didn’t change the determination of the DA’s office to take future threats seriously.
Without succumbing to “Chicken Little syndrome,” said Scarpino, “we must remain ever-vigilant. The most difficult part of the cases is determining motive. We will continue to prosecute vigorously when we determine there to be actual threats to the community.”