By Aaron Gorodzinsky
Director of Campaign and Security Planning
This has been a very difficult year for our Jewish community, witnessing once again a rise in the number of antisemitic attacks happening across our nation. I want to share five things we are doing in our community to fight against antisemitism long-term:
1. We help pass legislation
Following many years of work, in 2014 we passed Act 70, giving all the schools in the state of Pennsylvania the necessary tools, training and funding to teach about the Holocaust. Act 70 provides training to all Intermediate Units, with the guidance of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, and uses materials, resources and curricula developed by the ADL and other educational institutions at no cost.
By 2017, 90% of all school entities in the state reported that they are now providing education on Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations within social studies and language arts courses. There is a lot more work to be done, but this is a good start.
In 2016, our state became the 14th state to pass anti-BDS legislation, prohibiting the state from contracting business with organizations and businesses that boycott the State of Israel or engage in boycotts against Israel while doing business with the state. Since then, the number of states has risen to 35.
2. We help protect our Jewish institutions
On Nov. 7, 2019, Act 83 was signed into law, establishing the Nonprofit Security Grant Fund Program and allowing us to apply for additional security funding to protect our institutions. This program has allowed our Jewish community to apply for hundreds of thousands of dollars in security funding to complement the Federal Nonprofit Security Grant. This year alone, our community received over $80,000 in grants.
In addition to the funding, this year, under the leadership of Gary Fromer, Barry Halper and Rance Block are heading the security committee to help all our Jewish institutions apply for and obtain security grants. Their work is supplemented by Ilene Cohen, a security grant writer we were able to fund with a grant provided by the Jewish Federations of North America.
3. We educate ourselves
We are currently working on five different programs, open to our community to help us be more educated and have the necessary tools to fight against antisemitism in all of its forms.
These programs go from combating antisemitism on social media and in online video gaming to hosting new seminars to prevent and combat antisemitism in our schools and universities. We will share more about these programs in our next column.
4. We engage with our elected officials
We are a community that communicates often with our elected officials regardless of party affiliation. We meet with them often, and we work with their staff to ensure they are aware of the needs in our community. Our relationship with our elected officials is what allows us to pass the type of legislation we have been able to pass.
This year, we are launching a new program to continue developing those relationships. During the first Friday of each month, we will host a Zoom conversation with a different elected official, all representing the Lehigh Valley. We look forward to releasing the full schedule as soon as it is finalized.
5. We take our elected officials to Israel
It is hard to explain the vital importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship to our elected officials if they have never had the opportunity to tour Israel and experienced the complexities of the country. This is why we as a community, supported by the other Federations in Pennsylvania, have guided several missions to Israel. On the last mission, in early 2020, Governor Wolf was part of the mission. We are now working on the 2021 mission, and we hope to bring two elected officials from the Lehigh Valley to the State Mission.