Tonight marks the first night of Chanukah, a holiday commemorating religious freedom and the perseverance of the Jewish people.
This occasion of celebration and reflection takes on a new urgency this year as Jews across the world grapple with rising antisemitism to a degree that has not been seen in generations. They need more than words of support. For non-Jews it is critical that in deeds and actions we stand by our friends and neighbors in this crucial time.
In 186 B.C., the Jewish community was under assault and their Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated. The Maccabees fought off those who would destroy their way of life and reclaimed the Temple. When the Maccabees went to rededicate the Temple and to light the Menorah, the ritual candelabra, there was only enough oil for a single night. Yet the oil burned for eight days, enough time to allow for sufficient oil to be obtained for the restoration of worship.
These events for which Chanukah is celebrated took place more than two millennia ago; but they are as timely as if they happened on Oct. 7.
Jews targeted. Their Temple desecrated. Their right to worship assaulted. Their very existence threatened.
This was true then, and sadly it is as true today.
We are witnessing protests where chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” are viewed as acceptable, despite the clear meaning of that phrase: true genocide. We see stores and restaurants targeted for protest because the owners happen to be Israeli or Jewish. We are subjected repeatedly to mass demonstrations in which masked and hooded protesters express support for Hamas, a terrorist organization with an avowed mission of destroying both the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
At these protests, there is a complete absence of a call for the release of more than 100 innocent Israelis being held hostage by Hamas.
Of course we are right to demand all that is reasonable to not harm innocent Palestinian civilians, but we must also be aware of how Hamas uses Palestinian women and children as a sword and a shield against Israel or how hospitals, schools, day care facilities are used as cover for military operations.
I have been in the Gaza tunnel network — it is real.
What we are witnessing today is not just in the Middle East, it is playing out here across our nation and even our state.
Jews are rightly concerned for their safety on our streets and in our subways. Some Jewish parents are telling their children not to wear anything that would identify them as Jewish.
Indeed, across the country synagogues are debating whether they should curtail their Chanukah celebrations or risk becoming targets for protests and violence. Absurdly, public officials in Virginia and Maine are arguing whether including a menorah or a Star of David in their holiday displays is “offensive.”
The irony should be disturbing to us all: a celebration of religious freedom and triumph over desecration and abuse canceled out of fear of threats of violence.
I am sure the Jewish community appreciates the words of support. But these times require more.
We must assure Jewish New Yorkers we take these threats seriously and we, as a community and government, stand with them and affirmatively rise to their defense.
Let’s start by enforcing the law. Yes, we have a sacred constitutional right to protest and demonstrate, but we live by the rule of law. Protesters destroying public property, harassing Jews and their allies and assaulting police officers must not be tolerated. Viral videos of demonstrators breaking the law indulges and encourages more illegal behavior. Arrest criminals and charge them.
I said we should use the National Guard as a show of force and crowd control to supplement the NYPD. The NYPD, State Police and National Guard standing together will make a clear statement: We will not tolerate lawlessness and we will support law enforcement officers to do their duty.
Both political parties must stop coddling elected officials who make antisemitic remarks — and voters must hold these officials accountable. They give license to hate and hostility. Also, there is a double standard. Would Congress be as forgiving if the statements were anti-Christian, anti-Black or anti-LGBTQ or anti-Italian?
History taught us the lesson of inaction. “Never Again” means act now.
What each of us must do is make those words a reality. Let us stand together, literally.
My plan is to begin to attend Friday night Shabbat services. I encourage all those who care about the Jewish people to do so as well.
We are all at risk.
Cuomo was the 56th governor of the State of New York.