file photo by Boyd Loving
the staff of the Ridgewood blog
Ridgewood NJ, Following the discovery of anti-Semitic symbols in the Pascack Valley Regional School District, Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) hosted a conference call for school superintendents, featuring experts from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP), as well as Superintendent of Schools Erik Gundersen from the Pascack Valley Regional School District on Tuesday.
Speakers addressed concerns regarding anti-Semitic activity in New Jersey schools and shared best practices in curbing the rising trend. Superintendents from more than thirty North Jersey schools joined the call, including representatives from school districts in Bergen, Sussex, and Warren counties. The ADL was represented by Deputy Director Melanie Robbins, Associate Regional Director for New Jersey Alex Rosemberg, and Education Director for New York/New Jersey Nicole Straker. The NJOHSP was represented by Chief of Staff Patrick Rigby.
On November 6th, Pascack Valley staff members found three Nazi swastikas in Pascack Valley High School. Additional swastikas and a racial slur were found at Pascack Valley High School at the end of November, followed by anti-Semitic symbols and racial slurs scrawled on a bathroom wall in Pascack Hills High School in early December. A few days later, a similar incident occurred at Ridgewood High School.
The ADL identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated throughout the United States in 2017. This represents an increase of 57 percent over the incidents reported in 2016. New Jersey experienced the third-highest number of those incidents in the nation.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5) said, “These incidents are completely unacceptable. We cannot ignore the fact that our schools are facing a disturbing uptick in incidents of hate and intolerance. As both a parent and your Congressman, I am ready to work with New Jersey superintendents to ensure that instances of bias, hatred, and anti-Semitism are swiftly addressed and dealt with. Together, we must continue to send a strong and clear message that anti-Semitism and all acts of hate have absolutely no place anywhere in our communities.”
Evan R. Bernstein, Regional Director of the Anti-Defamation League New York/New Jersey Regional Office said, “We are grateful to Representative Gottheimer for convening a call today with ADL, NJOHSP, and dozens of school superintendents to discuss how we can collectively address hate, bias, and bigotry in our K-12 schools. Last year, we at ADL saw a surge in anti-Semitic incidents targeting students across the country, which included an astounding 94 percent rise in incidents at K-12 schools. Unfortunately, elementary, middle and high schools have exceeded public spaces (such as parks and streets) as the locations with the most anti-Semitic incidents, surpassing homes, businesses, Jewish institutions, and college campuses. We remain deeply troubled by these trends, but are heartened by the outpouring of support from elected officials and community leaders in New Jersey, who remain committed to addressing this very serious problem. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with Representative Gottheimer and others to build a safer and more inclusive learning environment for our young people in New Jersey.”
Superintendent of Schools Erik Gundersen said, “I appreciate that the Congressman and other local elected officials throughout the Pascack Valley area have rallied behind our district in light of these events. It is important for all elected leaders and faith-based leaders to join their school partners to shed light on how our communities must stand up against hateful actions. The Pascack Valley Regional High School District can’t do this alone and needs the ongoing support, guidance, and expertise of our community partners and other national organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey as we strive to move forward. Together, we will be able to inform, take action, and educate our students and communities on how we can stand up against hate. It is my hope that the Congressman’s conference call, where we received a briefing from The New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and The Anti-Defamation League, along with learning from Pascack Valley Regional’s experience, will provide superintendents with the tools to more effectively address anti-semitic events – should they present themselves in additional schools around the 5th Congressional District.”
This summer, Congressman Gottheimer led a Synagogue Security Summit with experts from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the NJOHSP.
Congressman Gottheimer has also worked across the aisle in Congress to combat disturbing uptick in bias, intolerance, and hate crimes against Jewish institutions. He led 11 other members of New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation in writing a letter to Congressional leadership, requesting a funding measure for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice for their programs to better secure Jewish Community Centers (JCCs).
In September, the President signed the Protecting Religiously Affiliated Institutions Act (P.L. 115-249), legislation Congressman Gottheimer cosponsored, which criminalizes the intentional obstruction of any person’s free exercise of religious beliefs by threat of force against religious property.