Less than a week after hate speech was written on a yeshiva wall in Meiers Corners, nearly 100 Staten Islanders, including religious and community leaders, gathered at a unity rally on Tuesday to denounce hate and encourage peace and kindness.
The unity rally was held at the Chabad of Staten Island on Tuesday.
The graffiti was discovered on the side of the building Thursday morning, the eve of Lag B’Omer, a Jewish holiday celebrating unity and freedom from persecution.
The words, “Synagogue of Satan,” were written on the Chabad of Staten Island, while across the street, the letters “SOS” were written on the Yeshiva Zichron Paltiel of Staten Island, referencing the aforementioned phrase.
Residents and members of the Jewish community were joined by local elected officials, NYPD Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey, borough commander of Staten Island, and the Staten Island Hate Crimes Task Force.
Rabbi Moshe Katzman told the crowd that when he first learned of the graffiti on Thursday morning, he wanted to keep the vandalism quiet, and not make it a big deal.
After people started to reach out to him, and photos of the hate speech spread on social media, he made the decision to use this hateful crime as a way to spread kindness.
“For every act of evil, we need to double and re-double our acts of kindness and this is the only way we can continue our life,” said Rabbi Moshe Katzman. “All we want to do is help another person, it doesn’t matter who you are and what you are, what you look like, male, female, black, white, Spanish, Chinese. It’s irrelevant.”
He continued: “It shouldn’t just be, ‘Oh, it’s only graffiti.’ No. This graffiti on the walls is going to show us and teach us that we, a handful of Staten Islanders, the forgotten borough, isn’t forgotten. We woke up. Sometimes they call us the bedroom community. We’re waking up. And we will show the world we can get together. Look at this room. It’s a Tuesday morning, look at this room. And we are going to do the right thing and I don’t know exactly how to do this, but we got to do it.”
Rabbi Katzman said the community needs to come together to send messages of kindness, teaching especially to young children. He suggested students from public and private schools join together for a rally before the school year ends.
Rep. Max Rose, District Attorney Michael McMahon, Borough President James Oddo, Assemblymembers Michael Cusick, Nicole Malliotakis and Michael Reilly, and Councilmembers Joseph Borelli and Steve Matteo, spoke at the unity rally to encourage kindness and push back against hate.
To further condemn anti-Semitism, elected officials painted over the hate speech on the side of yeshiva, using supplies provided by Matteo’s Clean Team and Dennis McKeon of local non-profit Where to Turn.
During the rally, Rose said that Staten Island is one borough and one family — defined by the rabbis, imams, pastors and civic leaders of the community.
“It’s important that we condemn anti-Semitism today,” Rose said. “I say that as a Jew, I say that as your congressman. But I also ask, as Rabbi Katzman alluded to, that we carry on with the full knowledge that we as a people are so much better than this.”
Rose added that Staten Island is defined by its acts of compassion, not hate.
“We continue to lift each other up and we refuse to give in and let whoever committed that act of hate outside,” he said. “We refuse to let them win because we will always speak to our better angels, we will always seek to come together and we will always seek to make sure that this country fulfills its values.”
McMahon said his office has been working diligently to provide resources to the yeshiva, while the NYPD continues to investigate the hate crime.
“We’re taking a stand for light, because only light can defeat darkness,” he said. “We’re taking a stand for love, because only love can defeat hate. We’re taking a stand for all people and all religions that they can enjoy the benefits and protections of American society, our constitutional principles, the freedom of religion, the freedom of association, the freedom of speech and together we are taking that stand. We on Staten Island are taking a stand against hate and for love.”
NYPD Assistant Chief Kenneth Corey asked for anyone who had information about the graffiti to reach out to the NYPD’s Crime Stoppers Hotline at 1-800-577-8477 (TIPS).
According to McKeon, the “SOS” graffiti will be removed from the school by the end of the week.
Incidents of hate speech are not uncommon on the borough, as the Advance reported on multiple instances of anti-Semitic graffiti found on Staten Island over the years.
Wagner College condemned the anti-Semitic graffiti, noting the rising number of incidents on Staten Island.
“Such acts have no place in our society and I urge the authorities to aggressively seek out and bring to justice those who have perpetrated these heinous acts,” said Richard Guarasci, president of Wagner College.
Controversy rose more recently when Westerleigh residents began placing signs on their lawns that read “Westerleigh Strong.” The motto was in response to realtors asking Westerleigh homeowners to sell their homes.
Some viewed it as a response to residents from the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, a largely Orthodox Jewish community, seeking to move to that section of the Island.
Opposition by some to an influx of Jewish residents grew, particularly after an eruv — an overhead religious wire — was installed in the neighborhood, which the Advance learned on Thursday was quietly taken down.