On the Ithaca Commons this past weekend, dozens gathered in the frigid early hours of the Jewish holy day of Shabat to stand against antisemitism.
The somber gathering comes in the wake of a hostage crisis at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, in which an armed gunman took four people hostage during an 11-hour standoff with law-enforcement.
The Ithaca support event drew support from around Ithaca and across religious groups, with organizers from both conservative and reform congregations, as well as representatives of the Muslim and Christian clergies.
The hostage-taker, British national Malik Faisal Akram, had been sheltered in the synagogue by Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker of the Beth Israel Congregation. Akram then brandished a gun during services, demanding the release of Aafia Siddiqui. Siddiqui, convicted of the assault and attempted murder of multiple FBI and U.S. Army personnel, is currently held at the Federal Medical Center, Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas.
That the crisis took place in a place of worship on Shabat was especially distressing for many.
“What makes it so difficult is that people go to their spiritual home for comfort and community and a sense of peace,” said Rabbi Shifrah Tobacman of the Tikkun v’Or Reform Temple. “For many people, it’s a break from things that can be very difficult in their lives, and so it feels particularly violating in a certain way.”
Rabbi Rachel Safman of Temple Beth-El described the psychological effect antisemitism has on the Jewish community, and spoke about the ways even nonviolent expressions of antisemtic tropes can cause Jewish people to question their integration in their communities.
“It often comes in surprising channels,” Safman said.
Rabbi Ari Weiss, executive director of Cornell Hillel. expressed concern at the antisemitic stereotypes that grounded Akram’s motivations.
“I was struck by the fact that this person did not seem to hate Jewish people, but he seemed to buy into a classical antisemitic motif… that the Jews control the world,” said Weiss.
Weiss shared his witnessing of multiple incidences of antisemitism since arriving in 2016.
“When I came to CornelI didn’t think that I would spend so much time responding to antisemitism,” Weiss said. “We’ve seen swastikas and flyers around campus. We’ve heard slurs leveled against Jewish people. And while I don’t believe at all that they are representative of Cornell, I think that they are there.”
Weiss hoped to continue education against antisemitism at Cornell and dispel stereotypes around Jewish people.
“One of the roles of Hillel is to do this education, call out hate and antisemitism when it happens, and to educate the campus on what antisemitism is and how antisemitism manifests in the 21st century,” Weiss said.
Correction, Jan. 24, 1:41 p.m.: A previous version of this story misstated a quote from Rabbi Weiss. This post has since been updated.