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The 92nd Street Y Turns 150 I Shabbat Shalom, 21 Adar I 5784

By Doron Krakow

I was privileged to return to the 92nd Street Y last Sunday evening for a remarkable program. Bari Weiss, founder of The Free Press, delivered the Y’s annual “State of World Jewry” lecture to a packed house on the institution’s largest stage. This year’s address, “What It Means to Choose Freedom,” followed numerous prior luminary speakers over the years, including Elie Wiesel, Abba Eban, and Amos Oz. It was delivered at a time of great turmoil in the Jewish world—and in the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of innocents in Israel on October 7. A time in which Israel’s modern heroes, the soldiers of the IDF, are engaged in a life-and-death struggle to free the more than 130 men, women, and children who remain, after 143 days and counting, in the hands of the butchers of Hamas. A time in which virulent antisemitism in this country and throughout the West has become increasingly commonplace.

Though the Passover Haggadah reminds us each year that “in every generation, they stand [against] us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be the Eternal, rescues us from their hand.” From the Exodus itself, across the millennia, in seemingly countless chapters of our story, those words have proven altogether too true. But we were certain that in our time, at long last, things had finally changed.

With Europe beneath the boot of Nazi Germany and the extermination of the Jewish people underway, America, Great Britain, and their allies rallied together, and the forces of freedom prevailed over those of darkness and hate. We were born into a world in which American democracy was a light unto the nations, and for Jews, each passing decade brought us to new heights of achievement, acceptance, and opportunity. We’d never had it so good—and our biggest challenge as a Jewish community, it seemed, was how to keep from blending into the great American melting pot.

We came of age at a time of Jewish sovereignty, raised in the aftermath of Israel’s lightning victory in the Six-Day War, its triumph over those who sought to destroy her in an onslaught unleashed on Yom Kippur. Israel had become the Start-Up Nation, a global leader in science and technology, and one of the great military powers not only in the region but in the world.

This time it was different. After 2,000 years, stories about how in every generation they would rise up against us would be consigned to history.

There is a great deal I will remember about the program that night. About the size and energy of the crowd. About the passion and purposefulness of the speaker. The chilling significance of her contention that for Jews today, Jews who have enjoyed these many decades of pride and prosperity, “our holiday from Jewish history has ended.”

But I think what I’ll remember most about that evening was what I experienced outside the 92nd Street Y before and after the lecture. I was joined by my wife; two of my sons, one with his fiancé and the other with his girlfriend; and two dear friends. We’d had dinner together a few blocks from the Y and walked over shortly before the lecture was scheduled to begin. As we approached the stately entrance on Lexington Avenue, we noticed the barricades and dozens of law enforcement officers and police vehicles creating a path to the well-guarded ticket-holders line, which ran along the building’s perimeter.

Then we began to hear the screams, the chants, and the taunts from demonstrators, many wearing masks or covering their faces with black and white keffiyehs in solidarity with Hamas. They carried Palestinian flags and signs depicting Jews as Nazis, railing against genocide being perpetrated in Gaza and calling those coming to an evening lecture at a great Jewish cultural institution “baby killers,” “murderers,” “Nazis.” There we stood, under police protection, attempting to maintain our dignity in the face of screams reminiscent of periods in history we were certain had long since passed us by. I looked at my children—my boys and their girls. I looked at my friends and at my wife. “Are you okay?” Are you okay…

Once inside, it was hard to stay fully focused on the lecture. My thoughts kept straying back to that scene. When we said goodnight and started to go our separate ways after the program, I found myself, once again, accosted by a man who pursued us, asking how I could sleep at night. As I turned to face him, he called me a baby killer and a butcher. I couldn’t keep myself from responding with a few comments of my own and was ready for more when I remembered that the safety of my children could be at risk. Rigid with tension, I turned, put my arms around them, and walked away.

This wasn’t a political rally, and it didn’t happen in a neighborhood known to be unsafe. It wasn’t Tehran or Cairo. It wasn’t a scene from a documentary film about Europe in the 1930s. This was the Upper East Side of Manhattan on a beautiful winter evening in the most populous Jewish city in the most prosperous nation in the free world. Americans, Jews and non-Jews attending a lecture, required the protection of New York’s finest while being subjected to viciously antisemitic taunts, chants, and cries from masked haters of Jews mere steps away.

And it wasn’t an isolated incident. In far too many places across Canada and the United States, this scene is repeated in various permutations. And far too many Jewish institutions have become the focal points. JCCs. Synagogues. Hillels. The landmarks of Jewish community.

At the opening of the program, the Y’s remarkable Chief Executive Officer Seth Pinsky noted that this year the institution is celebrating its 150th anniversary and in response to the rising tide of antisemitism, it is doubling down on its commitment to Jewish content and programming. The 92nd Street Y will continue to proudly proclaim its commitment to strengthen Jewish community and enrich Jewish life as we, Americans and Canadians from coast to coast, embrace our responsibilities to and for one another by pushing back against this rising tide.

Im ein ani li, mi li? | אם אין אני לי מי לי? | If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

Shabbat shalom | שבת שלום


Doron Krakow
President and CEO
JCC Association of North America

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