Lower East Side community leaders stood side-by-side Sunday in front of a defaced synagogue, literally “erasing the hate” from the facade of the First Roumanian-American Congregation/Beth Hachasidim DePolen on East Broadway.
Someone scrawled, “KKK and “F—” next to the entrance this past Wednesday, prompting the NYPD to open a hate crimes investigation. Yesterday afternoon, members of the congregation, representatives from other places of worship, elected officials and local residents came to the synagogue at 233 East Broadway to offer their support.
The event was organized by former City Council member Alan Gerson, who worships at First Roumanian-American synagogue. “To the perpetrators,” said Gerson, “we say this. If this was some kind of sick joke, know that hatred and its symbols are no joking matter. If this was some kind of message or (an act) of hatred… know that we are united in response to you. We will repel you. Your message is rejected and will have no place in our community, in our city.”
The congregation’s rabbi, Shmuel Spiegel, said he was humbled by the outpouring of support from the community. He called the incident, “an act of evil,” but Spiegel also expressed the hope, “that the people who have done this act will see and realize their mistakes and see how important these holy places are to people.” His older brother, Rabbi Gershon Spiegel, added, “the powers of evil are no match for the powers of honesty, community and truth.” Noting that the Lower East Side is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, known for its diversity and strong community, he said, “will not be stopped by the actions of weak people who look for attention by spreading hate.”
Also speaking yesterday was the rector at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, Nathanael Saint-Pierre, who came to this country from Haiti. He said people of all faiths on the Lower East Side stand with the Jewish community, asserting, “the message of hate, or the desire to attack one member of the community, should have only one response: unity. The response to hate is love.”
Several elected officials were in attendance and helped synagogue leaders paint over the hateful markings. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer noted that hate crimes have spiked since the election of Donald Trump. In a city known for its diversity and openness, she vowed, bigotry will not be tolerated. “We will call out these bigots” said Brewer, “for what they are and we will prosecute crimes against our neighbors to the fullest extent of the law.”
Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou talked about growing up in El Paso, Texas, where she experienced bullying and prejudice, but also found acceptance within the Jewish community there. Niou, the first Chinese-American to represent Lower Manhattan in Albany, said, “we are one community.” She added, “We are not going to accept this kind of behavior on the Lower East Side… That’s what makes us different from President Trump.”
City Council member Margaret Chin said, “We are here today to show our defiance in the face of hate and bigotry.”
“The Jewish community on the Lower East Side is one of the oldest in this country,” said Chin. “Their roots run deep and they are an inseparable part of the fabric of our country. In our president, we see that fabric being ripped apart… We must take a stand against hate or be complicit in that hate with our silence. We must stand together.”
Jacob Goldman, a local district leader and member of the congregation, also spoke, saying that the community as a whole stands in “strength and solidarity” against hatred.” Paul Newell, another district leader, attended the event, as well. A number of candidates for elected office were there, too, including Dashia Imperiale and Christopher Marte (City Council District 1). Gerson and Newell are both contenders to replace State Sen. Daniel Squadron in an upcoming special election.
Other groups represented at the podium yesterday included: the Chinese American Planning Council, the Lower East Side Jewish Conservancy and the Bialystoker Synagogue.
The First Roumanian-American Congregation was located in a building on Rivington Street before its roof collapsed in 2006. After the collapse, the synagogue merged with Beth Hachasidim DePolen on East Broadway.