Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and New York political leaders vowed Monday to boost efforts to stem the tide of violent antisemitism by strengthening efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.
Speaking to Orthodox leaders and rabbis at Manhattan’s Lincoln Square Synagogue, Mayorkas, 63, said he is working with the Department of Justice, which is “fully dedicated” to the prosecution of hate crimes, and that it would work with states and cities “to ensure that violent acts of antisemitism and other forms of hate are addressed at every level to the fullest extent of the law.”
Mayorkas, who is Jewish, donned a black velvet yarmulke embroidered with gold Stars of David and told the crowd that he did not have regular sleepovers with friends or go to sleep-away camp while growing up because his mother — who fled from Romania to Cuba to escape Nazi persecution in the early 1940s — feared her young children would be attacked while away from home. (The Mayorkas family immigrated to the U.S. in 1960 following the Cuban revolution and the ascendance of Fidel Castro.) He said the yarmulke belonged to his father who wore it 50 years ago at his bar mitzvah.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas wearing his father’s yarmulke embroidered with gold Stars of David at an event to combat antisemitism in New York on Dec. 12, 2022. Photo by Jacob Kornbluh
Mayorkas says the homeland security department he is leading is “action-driven” in fighting antisemitic violence. The FBI reported Monday that 63% of religious hate crimes in the U.S. are motivated by antisemitism.
The event, hosted by the Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox umbrella organization, took place amid a spike in hate crimes against Jews in New York and blatant anti-Jewish rhetoric on social media.
The New York Police Department said last week that 45 antisemitic incidents were reported to authorities in November, representing 60% of all hate crimes in the five boroughs and marking a 125% increase compared to October. Since January, a total of 662 incidents — including assaults, vandalism and harassment — motivated by anti-Jewish bias have been documented by the NYPD.
Speaking at the event, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the launch of a new statewide “hate and bias prevention unit” that will be part of the state’s Department of Human Rights. The unit will be charged with leading public education and outreach efforts, as required by legislation she signed last month to promote inclusion and tolerance.
“And it’s not just going to be sitting in a bureaucratic office,” she added.
New York City Mayor Eric Adams also said he will be announcing several initiatives in the coming weeks that will encourage “our young African American community” to become “credible messengers” against hate.
Some groups and individuals, drawing on the beliefs of radical factions of the Hebrew Israelite movement, have in recent weeks promoted antisemitic tropes on social media and in public gatherings, including the conspiracy theory that falsely claims that white Jews are imposters.
Repeating his call to strengthen Black-Jewish relations, Adams said he “is ready” to take a leading role in the fight against antisemitism and all hate. “This is the right time for me to be the mayor of this city as we undergo this battle,” he said, adding that the Orthodox community supported him in his run for mayor last year. “I am going to be with you now.”
Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer kicked off the event, before heading to Washington, D.C., for negotiations on a government spending package. Schumer said Jewish leaders and elected officials must persist and work together to fight antisemitism “with clarity and conviction” no matter political disagreements.
Rabbi Moshe Hauer, the OU’s executive vice president, said the Orthodox community underreports incidents of antisemitism for a variety of reasons. But he said he was encouraged that “the most powerful and influential leaders” of government were present to “stand up with one voice” against antisemitism.