Margo Litwin joins others in a Jan. 5 march across the Brooklyn Bridge to support the city’s Jewish communities in the wake of a spate of anti-Semitic attacks, in New York. Thousands of people, some covered in Israeli flags and others singing Hebrew songs, poured into Lower Manhattan on Sunday in a show of solidarity. YANA PASKOVA/THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPINION: Support the Jewish community and be the difference the world needs

I read recently that the top five New Year’s resolutions include the promises we make to ourselves to bring positive changes to our lives like exercise more, lose weight, become more organized, learn a new life skill or hobby and live life to the fullest.

On the surface, those might seem self-centered but it occurred to me that all of those can impact — for better or worse — people inside and even outside our immediate circle.

Looking back over 2019, I have just one wish for the new year – that we resolve to do a better job of loving each other and not just with words but how we treat one another, including those we don’t know personally.

Hearts beating with love takes us far beyond self-interests and causes us to peer into people’s lives, to seek to know them and not just their names but their histories and yearnings.

Love embraces strangers and outcasts. It tells hard truths and trusts God to turn it to good.

Trust me, I know personally how difficult that can be. I also know how necessary it is, especially today when it seems like hatred permeates so much of this life.

Witness, for instance, the rash of crimes inflicted on our Jewish brothers and sisters.

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According to FBI numbers released in November, reported hate crimes dipped slightly in 2018, but violence against individuals rose to a 16-year high. Not surprising, the majority of reported hate crimes were motivated, as in previous years, by bias against race and ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

Incidents targeting gay males, for instance, increased by nearly 7%, and anti-transgender hate crimes rose nearly 34%. Racially motivated incidents against Latinos spiked 13% over one year and 48% over five years. And as a result of the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people in October 2018, anti-Semitic homicides in the U.S. reached their highest level ever.

Suspect in Hanukkah celebration stabbings Thomas Grafton, 37, leaves the Ramapo Town Hall in Airmont, New York after being arrested on Dec. 29, 2019. KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images/TNS
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Across the country last year a standoff and shooting in New Jersey left six people dead, including three people inside a kosher supermarket; in Brooklynan elderly Jewish man was viciously attacked with a brick in broad daylight, and members of the Jewish community there were pelted with eggs and beaten with fists.

Now comes an attack at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York, where Hasidic Jews had gathered to celebrate Hanukkah. Thirty-eight-year-old Grafton Thomas, now charged with six counts of attempted murder as well as federal hate crimes, allegedly forced his way in and began stabbing people. Five people were injured and at least one is still in critical condition.

His daughter has since called the rest of us to “stand up and stop this hatred’ and said she hopes her father wakes to a “changed world.”

Me, too.

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On Sunday, I saw hope as tens of thousands of people, in a show of solidarity for New York’s Jewish community, flooded Lower Manhattan in a stand against violence.

Each week, Gracie Bonds Staples will bring you a perspective on life in the Atlanta area. Life with Gracie runs online Tuesday, Thursday and alternating Fridays.
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On Monday, the American Jewish Committee launched the #JewishandProud Day initiative, encouraging all Jews in the U.S. and around the world to wear a kippah, a necklace with a Jewish symbol, a t-shirt written in Hebrew or anything else identifiably Jewish, and exhibit their indentity publicly and proudly on social media using the hashtag #JewishandProud.

The committee asked that those of us who are not Jewish to also post photos and comments in support of the Jewish community and to share on www.AJC.org/jewish-and-proud what we will be doing in 2020 to support the Jewish community.

“Enough is enough,” AJC CEO David Harris said. “We will not shy away from publicly displaying, celebrating our Jewish identity and faith.”

David Harris is CEO of the American Jewish Committee, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization. CONTRIBUTED
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

In October, AJC, the leading global Jewish advocacy organization, found in its landmark survey of American Jews that 31% avoid publicly wearing, carrying or displaying things that might help people identify them as Jews, and 25% avoid certain places, events, or situations at least some of the time out of concern for their safety or comfort as Jews.

“The most visible of our brethren, Jews who are easily identifiable because they proudly wear yarmulkes and traditional clothing, have become the number one targets, but if any Jew anywhere is attacked for being a Jew, we must all respond in total support and solidarity,” Harris said. “With #JewishandProud we encourage all Jews, however one identifies Jewishly, to show that none of us will allow those who desire to threaten or harm us to triumph.”

Tuesday marked the beginning of the Jewish fast Asarah B’Tevet, a Jewish day of recognizing what leads to destruction.

And so today, join with me in recognizing the healing power of love to drive out darkness and, whether you are Jewish or not, resolve this year to love everyone, not in loud words but great deeds.

Let’s be the difference the world needs to see.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.

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