MORE: U.S. Special Envoy joins Ocean County leaders in solidarity against “evil poison” of hate and anti-Semitism (PHOTOS)

In a stirring display of unity and resolve, over 100 diverse community leaders from Lakewood, Toms River, Jackson, Brick and Howell gathered at the Lakewood Municipal Building on Tuesday for a Regional Discussion on Stopping the Hate headlined by Elan S. Carr, U.S. State Department Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Special Envoy Carr advises Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and is responsible for directing U.S. policies and projects aimed at countering anti-Semitism around the world.

The event was chaired by leading Lakewood community activist Mr. Eli Tabak. It was opened by Lakewood Deputy Mayor Lt. Colonel Menashe Miller USAF and Lakewood resident Major Raphael Berdugo, USAF, who delivered the invocation.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Tabak highlighted a disturbing new trend whereby those who espouse anti-Semitic tropes and canards have found a “socially acceptable” outlet in demonizing Orthodox-Jews as a group. He spoke of how Nazi propaganda in the 1930’s dehumanized Jews and led millions of “good people” to participate actively in genocide – or remain silent in the face of atrocities. Mr. Tabak concluded that “We can’t remain silent. We are here today to do our part. We praise our great country for creating a post specifically to battle anti-Semitism – a post that is filled today by Special Envoy Elan Carr.”

Mr. Tabak thanked Congressman Chris Smith (4th District –NJ), who represents Lakewood, for his pivotal role as the author of the legislation that created the Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism in 2004. Congressman Smith, who is known as a champion for human rights, is the co-chair of the Congressional Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism. Ms. Jo Schloeder, District Director for Congressman Chris Smith, then read a letter from Congressman Smith.

Rabbi Aaron Kotler, President of Beth Medrash Govoha, spoke on behalf of the Lakewood Neighbors leadership. He referenced the horrific acts of violence – in Poway, Pittsburgh, New Zealand, Walmart, North Carolina, and so many other places – that have been perpetrated by haters who are often called “loners.” Rabbi Kotler emphasized, “these are not loners…..The killer who murdered parishioners in the church in North Carolina thought that many people supported him.” The folks in Ocean County who crudely mock Lakewood Jews with bumper stickers that read “pray for me, I drive in Lakewood” may be fellow travelers who make the next killer feel that he is not alone either.

Zeroing in on anti-Semitism, Rabbi Kotler stated that, “Anti-Semitism is not about the Jews…. It’s never about Jews. It is about who we want to be as a society.” Addressing the audience of community leaders united in their resolve to tell the good story of Ocean County, Rabbi Kotler concluded that, “It’s tragic that such a level of hate has metastasized in Ocean County. It’s also a wonderful thing that as an ancient scourge returns, we have civil society gathered together today who want to do better.”

Special Envoy Carr spoke in stark terms, calling anti-Semitism a “vile poison.” “Every society that has imbibed this vile poison has rotted to its core and produced human misery at a level that defies description.” He noted that when Hitler saw his impending defeat, he said – in 200 years, the world will forget about all this and go back to hating Jews. Carr lamented that it is only 75 years later, and Jew hatred is on the rise.

Special Envoy Carr spoke glowingly of the best in America – where Jews and all minorities are embraced and treasured as equals. But then he turned to “the other America – a darker America… An America of Rise Up Ocean County, Poway, and Pittsburgh. Jews murdered in this country. On Shabbat. For no reason other than that they were Jews.”

“Where do these regular young men, who took so many lives, come from? They were not born that way….They drank from the vile poison of anti-Semitism over the years. Through their friends. Through their neighbors. And most of all from movements of hate that spread their vile poison on social media, the chief vector of this disease, and so many others. And as they continue to feed on this, the hatred turns to action.”

Special Envoy Carr emphasized that there are consequences to hating people. “It diminishes us. It destroys our souls…..Americans who allows themselves to hate others are working to destroy the very fabric of our country.” He emphasized that not everyone caught in the maelstrom of hate is a bad person. Some just need education. He sent a message of hope and belief in the power of every one of us to make change for the better, noting, “Who can teach this lesson? Each and every one of us. Every American….. [At work. At home. Wherever we are], each of us can be a model and champion for values on which our country was built and our future depends. I hope we can work together to uplift all of us, as one country.”

The Special Envoy continued on the theme of education in response to an audience questions, noting the importance of educating our young and intervening early. He wrapped up with thoughts on the power of condemnation and the need to ensure that we all speak up in the face of hatred. He praised our country’s protection for free speech, but noted that hate speech has consequences and must be met with a tsunami of condemnation. Special Envoy Carr emphasized, “We have to be unequivocal that this is un-American…. If we don’t condemn hate speech – that normalizes it. Which turns to vandalism. Which turns to street assault. Which turns to Pittsburgh and Poway. And then people will say – How could this happen?” He exhorted the community leaders assembled to act now and to continue to speak up now, “Don’t wait for it to happen.”

Special Envoy Carr’s passionate message left the leaders in attendance galvanized and inspired. Mr. Eli Liberman, who has taken a leadership role in the effort to combat anti-Semitism, noted “It has been sobering for us as a community to confront the reality of hate in our own backyards. We leave today heartened and inspired by Special Envoy Carr’s resounding message and the incredible show of unity and resolve from government, law enforcement, and our diverse community partners, all standing together to send a message that hate will not be tolerated in our County.”

The Regional Discussion on Stopping the Hate was organized by Lakewood Neighbors, a broad coalition formed to understand and to bring together diverse stakeholders around a shared vision of civic cooperation and a brighter future for all. It was attended by senior staff representing Congressman Chris Smith and Congressman Andy Kim; NJ State Senator Bob Singer; Assemblyman Ned Thomson; senior staff representing Assemblyman Sean Kean; Ocean County Freeholders Virginia Haines and Gary Quinn; Ocean County Sherriff Michael Mastronardy; Lakewood Mayor Ray Coles, Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller and Township Committeeman Mike D’Elia; Toms River Council Members Laurie Huryk and Terrence Ternbach; representatives of the NJ Attorney General’s Office, Division of Criminal Justice, NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, and the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office; local law enforcement from towns throughout the region; Dr. Joseph Marbach, President of Georgian Court University; Michael Cohen of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; Rabbi Avi Schnall of Agudath Israel of America; clergy; leading communal activists; and business and nonprofit leaders.

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