February 19, 2015
Mayor Bill de Blasio: I have to say, Rabbi Schneier is a giant – that was not a height reference – he’s a giant in this city. He’s a giant in his faith – 50 years plus of leading this great temple. And Rabbi Schneier has devoted himself so passionately, so deeply, not only to the community he loves but to bring all communities together. And he epitomizes all that’s good about this city. And he is a blessing for all of us. Let’s thank Rabbi Schneier.
I want to speak about some of the people here, but I want to just take a moment to fully appreciate Rabbi Korsia’s ideas because it’s very powerful to hear someone speak from the heart of the challenge, from the frontline of the battle. And, rabbi, you are a man of great warmth, a man who obviously believes in inclusion, and brotherhood, and building those bridges you referred to. And yet you have to report to us with urgency what people are experiencing – the fears and threats they face. And you said something very powerful, and I want us to reflect on it, and remove ourselves, for a moment, from the comfort of New York City in 2015 – a place that, thank God, works hard every day to address some of the pain and some of the problems of history. And hear deeply what the rabbi said when he said before that horrible day, just weeks ago, that there was a certain indifference – to use his word – a certain indifference towards the dangers directed and experienced by the Jewish community in France. That his tragedy brought to the fore a set of concerns. And we want to fully believe it’s going to generate in the French people a sense of solidarity, and support, and respect, for the Jewish community [inaudible].
But before the tragedy, there was an atmosphere of indifference. I have had this profound worry. I know so many here today have shared it. That indifference suggests that something hasn’t been learned from history by our brothers and sisters in Europe. I say that with no disrespect because we all are facing down these demons and these challenges. But when Rabbi Schneier was liberated, surrounding him and so many people throughout Europe was a painful history of anti-Semitism. And then it was renounced, and spoken against, and held up as a negative, but that didn’t mean it all went away. It may have been latent. It may have been under-recognized. And then as France emerged to the Jewish community – and we’ve seen them more and more in recent years – the question is what would the governments do? Would they respond forcibly, energetically, in a focused manner? Would they show by their actions that they fully supported their Jewish communities? Or would they be indifferent? Or would their response be somehow lacking?
And the reason I went to Paris was because we as Americans – we have some responsibility here to say to our European brothers and sisters that we cannot accept a repeat of history. That indifference only leads us down a very dangerous path.
And I – to be more personal, if you will, about it – would say to all of us that there were people like us – people who were involved, and concerned, and people of faith, and people who read about the news of the world in the 1920s and the 1930s – who may have underestimated the threat at hand. They had hoped someone, somewhere would deal with it. They may have assumed that, of course, civilized governments could never allow something so heinous to get out of hand. And again, I am saying something so many people feel already, but I just wanted to take this moment – with this extraordinary distinguished guest and this setting that means so much to this community and to this city – to say we are living our moment in history. It’s our moment to say we don’t like this trend we see. We don’t find it acceptable. We don’t allow anyone a pass. Our ally nations in Europe bear responsibility for taking the kind of steps that leave no doubt that their absolute commitment to defending their Jewish communities. That send no subconscious signal to those who would do harm to the Jewish community, that somehow it might not be as much an offense as some others. As – as Rabbi Korsia said powerfully, there are no small crimes, no small affront to the Jewish community is acceptable because it will only lead to larger affronts and more dangerous ones. So, it is a decisive moment.
We saw the horrible attack in Paris. When I stood outside the Hyper Cacher market – saw all the memorials, all the wreaths, all the statements – you could feel that it was a moment that opened eyes of people powerfully. And therefore it was a decisive moment – a moment where people have to decide where they stood. And one would have hoped, as the Rabbi said, that that would be the beginning of something better – and I still hold out that hope. And yet, before you even turn the page – the attack in Copenhagen, following almost the exact same pattern – the vandalism of a Jewish cemetery in Alsace. And each time the question will be will the response send a signal that is uncompromising and so powerful that it will actually inhibit the next attack?
Everyone gathered here believes in tolerance, believes in understanding. He lived in New York City, and I thank the Rabbi for his recognition of all that this city has worn – all the pain, all the challenges, the resiliency we found. But we have always come back to that hope that together we could build something better; that we are actually linked together, inextricably; that we defend each other. We express that in a powerful way in this city. When our Jewish community is under attack our government, exemplified by our police force, stand visibly at the side of the community. Stand between the community and those who would do us harm.
The message is unmistakable. It’s important that it happen every time – it’s not just when, God forbid, there is a bias incident here in this city, it is when there is an attack on a Jewish community anywhere in the world. That is when we go on alert. That is when we reinforce key community centers to send a message. That is what every government should do that believes in freedom.
I’ll conclude just simply – the way you can tell someone’s intent, we’ve all learned in life, is by their actions not by their words. The words matter – the message of tolerance and understanding matters – the actions matter even more. We are proud of this city – and I think it’s true of our country as well – that we put resources, put energy, we put personnel to make a regular commitment to the safety of this community. It’s a very worthy investment. It’s an investment that says we are living by our values, that our values are not slipping away – that they are alive and they’re real. Because this community – after thousands of years of affronts by different governments all over this earth – deserves to see that in a true democracy something is different. And in this country, by and large – and I would say with great pride in this city – we have shown what that looks like, what that actual commitment, investment, that consistency, looks like. All we should ask of our brothers and sisters in Europe is that they show us that same faith.
No – no Jewish community in Europe should have to beg for protection.
And I think it’s up to all of us to create an atmosphere of accountability. And when we see, all over Europe, the governments quickly support the Jewish community, quickly provide the police and the soldiers, quickly make the investment visibly – that’s when we know that what we saw before our very eyes slowly grow in the 20s and 30s can’t happen again. It’s as literal and specific as that. We take that most powerful phrase – never again – and play out its full meaning. It means the people cannot be indifferent. They can’t assume. They can’t wait inactively. They have to stand up now in the defense of this community and in the defense of freedom.