It takes a village to stop antisemitism - opinion

Pittsburgh’s Mayor William Peduto and Poway’s Mayor Steve Vaus spoke of the healing in their communities after the antisemitic attacks there.

Placards placed following the shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue (photo credit: ADL/COURTESY)
Placards placed following the shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue
(photo credit: ADL/COURTESY)
More than 12,000 guests around the world watched the wonderfully hopeful Mayors Summit Against Antisemitism. The incredible display of the diversity of functions revealed the need for an extensive interrelated systemic approach for successful interventions against this lethal bigotry virus.
Hosted by Frankfurt am Main Mayor Uwe Becker in collaboration with the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), the event included 32 mayors from 21 different countries, an official adviser on antisemitism, the president of the European Commission, chairpersons and directors of Jewish Federations, a human rights commissioner, legislation-security and law enforcement, senators and interfaith and cross-communal leaders. The summit was mainly in English, but there was also French and Spanish.
All the presenters have used their official positions to attack antisemitism, bigotry and hatred and bring real, down-to-earth local solutions. From all the summit voices, a blueprint emerged that other cities and localities can follow around the world in response to antisemitic and other racist attacks. The task is ambitious but not impossible. Here are some of the highlights.
Pittsburgh’s Mayor William Peduto and Poway’s Mayor Steve Vaus spoke of the healing in their communities after the antisemitic attacks there. When local authorities acknowledge and denounce antisemitic attacks and speech, and provide immediate security, the healing begins. People feel cared for when there is support and feel more traumatized when officials let other concerns dilute their responsibility and compassionate response. We all must fight the meme of hatred wherever we see it and request the media’s correct coverage.
Research has shown that faith plays a huge role in trauma recovery. Religious people tend to be less traumatized by tragic events than others. So, prayers and religious services can offer much relief. The healing is even more powerful when combined with interfaith efforts of people supporting each other. In my panel discussion, I spoke of how, as Jews, we are not the only recipients of hatred, and must unite with the different targeted ethnic and cultural communities to create joint safety measures, educational efforts and interfaith connections, and receive and provide support when needed.
Mayor Peduto spoke of “beating darkness with light” and how an “attack against one is an attack against all of us.” Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fisher highlighted the need for local centers for intellectual and social activities, as well as one for national activities, the need for compassion and love, the need for the fight to be a bipartisan effort because “we are in this together.” He contributed a remarkable sentence: “Hatred is morally incorrect and economically bad.”
Tirana’s Mayor Erion Veliaj brought a unique cross-cultural note from Albania. He talked about his city’s code of honor to teach the next generation to take pride in Tirana being a city of tolerance, being a good host taking good care of its guests. The city from where Mother Teresa originated has deep roots of co-existence and of showing solidarity. It was not only about what should not be done but what should be promoted: to keep telling the story of how the city was a haven for Jews. As mayor Velaj put it so lyrically, “... treating your guests who are entrusted in your home as if you are the representative of God in your home.”
It was deeply reassuring to hear mayors recognize that the struggle against antisemitism is the struggle for a better world. Amsterdam’s Mayor Femke Halsema alerted us to the need to be vigilant and to responsibly emphasize that the past is not yet finished. She reminded us how “the Holocaust began as a joke, with fake news, in classrooms, at work, in the streets”; that we needed to be vigilant to the first steps, and that “even we, could be future perpetrators.” She encouraged bravery like the 1941 general February strike during the war. “We are all responsible. We need to stand up for something and intervene.”
TORONTO MAYOR John Tory spoke of communities learning from each other and the responsibility to educate, to advocate and to act, and to pay attention to even the most minor incidents.
There was an overall theme of recognizing and celebrating Jewish contributions in art, culture and sciences in the hosting countries. Vilnius, Lithuania Mayor Remigijus Simasius spoke of the need not to have a “them and us,” of the need to integrate the past and the Jews’ spiritual heritage. Riga, Latvia Mayor Martins Stakis spoke of his city where ordinary members of society chose to act for remembrance, and where people are aware that “the history of the Jews is also the history of Riga.” Athens, Greece Mayor Kostas Bakoyannis, spoke of the need to watch for the distortion and re-purposing of the Holocaust and to recognize the Jews’ important contribution in arts, academia, sciences and their continued dynamism.
Malaga, Spain Mayor Francisco de la Torre spoke of his cosmopolitan city, where there is no place for intolerance. Carolina Cosse, intendant of Montevideo, Uruguay, reminded us of the West German chancellor Willy Brandt’s symbolic gesture, when he knelt “the Warsaw genuflection” in a gesture of humility and penance for the victims of the Warsaw Uprising. She spoke of the need to reject antisemitism and to see the fight against it as a work that “is a collective and permanent construction, for each and every one, every day and in all areas, a construction for freedom, democracy, inclusion, equality, non-discrimination.”
It was encouraging to hear how the different institutions could collaborate to do preventive work and use the IHRA adoption for antisemitism. UK Adviser on Antisemitism Lord John Mann spoke of “weaving between the different institutions,” such as the city authorities and football working together, combining the software ability to identify the online racist voices and banning them from membership in the football clubs, then educating them with the city’s help.
Mayor Haim Bibas, chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel, with 257 municipalities under his authority, articulated his expansive vision. As the work must be done at the local level, Israeli mayors connecting with mayors worldwide to fight antisemitism would have a tremendous impact. And as antisemitism has gone dangerously viral on social media, he could see the nation’s ingeniousness in tech finding the cyber-solution for this problem.
I was invited as the expert on individual and collective trauma. I talked about how a comprehensive picture of trauma, its symptoms and the possibility of its healing can help us seek the right interventions, and how addressing the perpetrators’ trauma and their unmet basic needs was as important as addressing the victims’ trauma and how people heal faster when public officials support them.
Antisemitic attacks are traumatizing, and often the memory of the Holocaust looms darkly. Thankfully, in the last 25 years, innovative healing tools have been developed to release this traumatic energy before it turns into symptoms. They help release fear, anger and helplessness and build resilience on the spot. They can be taught to the lay public and made available by local authorities in group trainings, on location, over Zoom, or on public TV.
These resiliency trainings can help quickly regroup the community, heal the Jewish collective trauma and remind us that we have resources to fight antisemitism we never had before. Jews of all denominations can unite against a common enemy that does not differentiate between religious or secular Jews, Left or Right, poor or rich. If we avoid polarization, we will recognize that antisemitism is found among quite different categories of people: the rich and the poor, the far-right and the far-left, the native majority of a country and the minorities. The tools that can heal us can also heal these populations who are vulnerable to catching the antisemitic virus when things do not go well for them and they get overwhelmed.
Gina Ross, MFCT, is the founder/president of the International Trauma-Healing Institute USA (ITI-Israel). She is the author of the seven-volume Beyond the Trauma Vortex Into the Healing Vortex and numerous articles. Her latest book is Breaking News! The Media and the Trauma Vortex: Understanding News Reporting, Journalists and Audiences. She can be reached at [email protected]