It’s now time to stamp out Antisemitism

Published October 18, 2021 in RINewsToday

The American Jewish Committee (AJC), one of the oldest nation’s Jewish advocacy groups fighting racism and antisemitism, calls on the Marriott Hotel company to apologize directly to Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Israeli singer who lives in Germany, for an anti-Semitic remark made by an employee.  He was told by the check-in manager to remove his Star of David necklace while waiting to check in at the Westin Hotel in Leipzig. Marriott is the parent company of Westin.  He was a guest at the hotel for a recording of a new MDR TV show in Leipzig.

According to Ofarim’s Instagram video released after the incident and news reports, the 39-year-old musician was left standing for 50 minutes while other guests were brought forward to be checked in.  When he questioned the lengthy check-in wait, an employee referred to the Star of David on his necklace, which he always wears, saying that  only when he took it off would he be allowed to check in.     

Ofarim left the Westin lobby after the incident and posted a two-minute video on Instagram Tuesday evening, Oct. 5, titled “Antisemitism in Germany 2021” in all capital letters, that has gone viral and shared widely on the internet. A very emotional Ofarim stated, “I am speechless. I don’t know how to say this,” in describing his encounter with antisemitism.

After the video’s release, Marriott International issued a statement saying the hotel chain would take this matter very seriously and supports the police measures and condemns antisemitism and all forms of discrimination. According to police, the hotel employed has filed a complaint of defamation, portraying the alleged antisemitic incident differently than Ofarim.

In a Facebook posting, Ofarim states that he has filed a criminal complaint against the employee at the Westin Hotel.  “… there should be no place for hate, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia or discrimination of any kind in this world,” he says. He says that after reporting the incident he is getting open threats and hate messages via social media.

‘This blatantly antisemitic incident is sickening and unacceptable everywhere, but especially in Germany. It reminds us that antisemitism is a problem in all parts of society, not only in the extreme fringes,” said Remko Leemhuis, Director of AJC Berlin. “Marriott should take all necessary steps to ensure that something like this will never happen again. AJC stands ready to help with our expertise and knowledge.”

While hotel staff involved in the incident with Ofarim reportedly have been placed on leave, AJC has launched an online petition calling on Marriott to not only apologize to Ofarim, but to commit to training its employees in Germany and around the world about antisemitism.  

Leemhuis says that AJC has the staff expertise and resources, especially its Translate Hate publication, to engage staff at all Marriott brands in understanding what is antisemitism, what should obviously be offensive words and actions.

Antisemitism alive and well in the United States   

Like Germany, antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. Just months ago, the ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) expressed deep alarm in response to the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Act (HCSA) report, that revealed that 2020 saw a six percent increase in reported hate crimes from the previous year and represented the highest total in 12 years. 

The latest FBI’s report, released Aug. 30th, is based on voluntary local law enforcement reporting to the Bureau.

In 2020, the FBI reported 7,759 hate crime incidents, a six percent increase from 7,314 in 2019 and the most since 2008, when 7,783 hate crime incidents were reported. Reported hate crimes targeting Black people rose to 2,755 from 1,930 the prior year – representing a 43 percent increase, and the number of anti-Asian hate crimes rose from 158 to 274.

According to the FBI’s HCSA report, hate crimes targeting the Jewish community made up nearly 60 percent of all religion-based hate crimes. Overall, religion-based hate crime incidents decreased from 1,521 in 2019 to 1,174 in 2020; this includes incidents targeting the Jewish community, which decreased from 953 to 676.

The increase in reported hate crimes comes, despite the fact that, for the third straight year, the number of law enforcement agencies providing data to the FBI has declined.

According to the FBI, only 15,136 agencies participated, which is 452 less than in 2019. The majority of agencies who did participate reported zero hate crimes.

“As ADL has said time and time again, when just one individual is targeted by a hate crime, it negatively impacts the entire community, resulting in marginalized groups rightfully feeling vulnerable and under siege,” said ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt. 

“While these numbers are disturbing on their own, the fact that so many law enforcement agencies did not participate is inexcusable, and the fact that over 60 jurisdictions with populations over 100,000 affirmatively reported zero hate crimes is simply not credible. Data drives policy and without having a complete picture of the problem, we cannot even begin to resolve the issues driving this surge in hate and violence,” says Greenblatt.

Meanwhile in Texas…

A top school administrator with the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake advised teachers that if they have a book about the Holocaust in their classroom, they should also provide students with a book from an “opposing” viewpoint, according to an audio recording obtained by NBC News.

Gina Peddy, the Carroll school district’s executive director of curriculum and instruction, made the controversial comment, captured by a leaked audio recording, during a training session on which books teachers can have in classroom libraries.

“Just try to remember the concepts of [House Bill] 3979,” Peddy said in the leaked recording released by NBC News, referring to a newly enacted Texas law that requires teachers to present multiple views when discussing “widely debated and currently controversial” issues. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust,” she says, suggesting “that you have one that has an opposing, that has other perspectives.”

“How do you oppose the Holocaust?” quipped one teacher said in response. 

After the online article and news story was released detailing the leaked audio recording,  Lane Ledbetter, Superintendent of Schools, quickly released an apology on Face Book. “During the conversations with teachers during last week’s meeting, the comments made were in no way to convey that the Holocaust was anything less than a terrible event in history. Additionally, we recognize there are not two sides of the Holocaust. As we continue to work through implementation of HB3979, we also understand this bill does not require an opposing viewpoint on historical facts.” 

The survivors who witnessed the horrors of Genocide and the Holocaust during World War II continue to dwindle in numbers and will soon no longer be here to share their stories. Rhode Island’s Genocide and Holocaust Education Commission is now gearing up to keep this knowledge alive to millennials, Gen Z and other generations. 

During last year’s General Assembly session, legislation was enacted to create this Commission to raise the awareness of the horrific Holocaust and other genocides that have taken place and continue even today through public education and community events to provide appropriate memorialization of the genocides throughout the state.

“The Rhode Island community has a responsibility to address all forms of hate and bullying. Educating our students about The Holocaust and other genocides is a step in the right direction,” says Marty Cooper, chair of the former Rhode Island Holocaust and Genocide Coalition. “The issue in Texas, unfortunately, is the tip of the iceberg. While the vast majority of Rhode Islanders support education as a means to recognize a history of hate and bigotry in our world, there is a minority that do not want to address this issue,” he says.

Antisemitism is alive and well in the United States, Germany, and throughout the world. We must be vigilant to continue to condemn all acts of hate within Rhode Island’s borders.

Editor’s Note: In 2021, the Associated Press changed their style guide to no longer have the word “antisemitism” hyphenated or capitalized.

AARP Rhode Island Web Report Puts Spotlight on Hunger

Published December 28, 2012, Pawtucket Times

Especially during the holiday festivities this week the plight of Rhode Island’s hungry seniors in Providence’s West End Community and throughout the Ocean State, may have remained hidden to many Rhode Islanders, especially at Christmas Dinner, who gathered with families and friends to eat turkey, ham, the fixings, topped off with delicious pastries, and even pies.

But with the funding support of AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger, AARP Rhode Island officially launches its Hungry in the West End investigative web report next week, to ratchet up the public’s awareness that seniors do go hungry every day in this Providence neighborhood and throughout Rhode Island’s 39 Cities and Towns.

Executive Director, Kathleen S. Connell, of AARP Rhode Island, notes that, according the USDA statistics, 67,000 Rhode Island households are considered “food insecure,” which means families do not always have the financial ability to purchase adequate food. “Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of Rhode Island households,” she adds, “receive SNAP (Food Stamp) benefits.

Targeting the West End of Providence

According to Connell, the West End of Providence is the city’s — and the state’s – most economically challenged community. The unemployment rate among its largely Hispanic population exceeds 20 percent, more than double the state average, she says.

Connell adds that hidden in the West End are the “elderly hungry,” whose “food insecurity” is reflected in the number of people who must rely on the federal SNAP program, Meals on Wheels, congregate meals sites at senior centers and neighborhood food pantries to eat.

To get the story out about Senior hunger, former journalist and now AARP Rhode Island’s Director of Communications, John Martin, worked closely with former Providence Journal reporter, Jody McPhillips to investigate and put this issue on the radar screen of the general public as well as the Rhode Island General Assembly and state policy makers.

One disturbing fact came to light during Martin and McPhillips’ interviews, is that resources to relieve hunger are “stretched thin. Federal and state funding to end hunger have not kept pace with the problem. For instance, the Rhode Island General Assembly funding for Meals on Wheels is below funding levels of four years ago, before the nation’s worst recession began.

The Web-based reports, to premiere on Friday, January 4, 2013 at http://www.aarp.org/ri, clearly showcase this daunting domestic issue. What you will see are McPhillips’s eight separate stories, added one per day, many parts of which are supplemented by links to Martin’s videos. They range from extended interviews with McPhillips’s sources, to vignettes shot on various locations, including at the Rhode Island Food Bank, with a Meals on Wheels driver, at food pantries and senior centers, and at the Sodexo family food weekend backpacks program. Also, Martin has put together an overarching video in documentary form that will be posted on the site in segments ranging from four to five minutes each.

Before next week’s premiere you can watch a video preview of this project at – the Web site listed above.

Hunger, One of America’s Biggest Domestic Issues

Connell says that “Hunger and goes hand in hand with a host of serious health consequences – including diabetes, depression, even malnutrition. These are big issues that America faces today. It’s not just a ‘senior problem,’ it’s a societal problem, too. As someone has posted on our Facebook page, senior hunger is simply a disgrace.

“One of our conclusions [noted in the Web-based reports] is that that a lot is being done to help address senior hunger. But federal and state money is not a one-sized fits all solution. For the truly isolated seniors – especially those with disabilities and health issues — well-stocked food pantries may not be a practical resource,” noted Connell.

“We think people who read and watch Hungry in the West End will reach their own conclusions about how we tackle this on a one-to-one basis. It’s a call to action for people to be more aware of senior hunger and to reach out personally to those who might need help,” says Connell.

Connell asks: “Is there someone you can check on? Can you offer someone a ride to the supermarket when you go shopping? Or offer to pick something up? Can you visit a food pantry on their behalf? Perhaps you can ask if they would like some help in signing up for Meals on Wheels or applying for SNAP.”

Connell even knows of a group in one Rhode Island community where “volunteering” means preparing an extra meal each week for someone in need.

For AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, “I can only say it has been a privilege to become better educated about senior hunger in Rhode Island. Jody and I met scores of people making a difference. But we also saw the great need that is out there. Each step of the way, however, we kept questioning who we were missing. The sad fact is that isolated seniors – by definition – can be all but invisible. In fact, one person said that first contact with some hungry and suffering seniors is a response to a 911 call.

“A lot of talk about hunger is focused on people out of work who are trying to feed their families,” says Martin. But this project brings the issue of senior hunger to the forefront — a problem that may not change much even if the economy makes a healthy rebound, he believes.

Martin states, “It’s not as if a stronger economy means isolated seniors on fixed incomes are going to have more money to spend on utilities, prescription medicines and groceries. And it has always been true that when seniors are forced to choose among those three expenses, groceries likely will be last on the list.”

A Preview….

Aptly put, the problem seems simple but not the solutions, so says McPhillips in her first Web report.

Luz Navarro, a diabetic with part of her left foot amputated, has been on dialysis for four years. The 62-year-old former insurance agent is now housebound, living with her cat. The independently-minded Navarro, can barely stand to cook at the stove and must now rely on Meals on Wheels, delivering her lunch five times a week.

McPhillips illustrates how difficult it is for older person’s to get enough to eat. Navarro, like many of the State’s elderly who are homebound, can’t drive to get to the market, or to a food pantry when money is tight. Nor can she walk to a Senior Center to have lunch and socialize with others.

As McPhillips quipps, “while pundits debate,” Mrs. Navarro needs to eat. While some in Congress denounce the social safety net for creating a culture of dependency, others call for funding to provide food for the needy even with a huge federal deficit.

Senior Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) makes an appearance, calling for the continuation of funding to the state’s SNAP program to feed the growing number of hungry.

Also, Catherine Taylor, director of the state Division of Elderly Affairs, says she sees a future looking darker rather than brighter, for Navarro, and other homebound seniors.

In an era of shrinking budgets, it’s becoming harder to do the things necessary to help older people stay in their homes for as long as possible, admits Taylor.

She warns that federal funding for food programs may be slashed as Congress is forced to rein in the nation’s huge deficit. Food and gas price increases will hit older person’s where it hurts, in their pocket books, predicts Taylor, making it more difficult for them to purchase groceries.

Hopefully, House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, will get Taylor’s message at the conclusion of McPhillips’ fine investigative piece: “It’s up to us to picture the world we want to age in,” and to work to bring it about.”

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based freelance who covers aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.