I remain deeply troubled by a video released last week on behalf of a largely-unknown group of desperate provocateurs who call themselves OJPAC. The video titled “The Jew in Rockland” compares a range of issues in Rockland County to conditions faced by Jews the 1930’s that led to the Holocaust. Within minutes of the offensive production landing on YouTube, I released a statement condemning its creators, deeming their message “outrageous rhetoric that can only divide Rockland County.”
With Good Friday and the start of Passover occurring simultaneously this year, we should not ignore the shared symbolism. As Christians mark the crucifixion of Christ and our Jewish residents commemorate their ancestors’ hurried flight out of Egypt, we must acknowledge a common history. Just as Jesus’ resurrection from the dead led to the start of Christianity, the Israelite’s liberation from Egypt led to the beginning of Judaism. Both Easter and Passover represent cultural freedom and rebirth – two principles needed to unite this county.
This spring, you’ll hear about a unique initiative to build a new pattern of relationships across religious divides. We’ll bring together community, faith-based and government leaders to talk about proven solutions that have changed perceptions in neighborhoods all across our nation. We’ll have the frank and open dialogue we need to build one Rockland County across all difference and diversity.
In Rockland County, we have more than 100 places of worship. More people go to church here every week, or to synagogue, or to a mosque or other place of worship than to their bank. A recent Gallup poll found more Americans believe religion is directly important to their daily lives than in any other advanced, industrialized country in the world. With such a full range of religious practices on active display in Rockland County, shouldn’t we look for ways to purge ourselves of intolerance?
Our rich diversity is a powerful strength, if we respect it. We are clearly stronger as a county when we use the full energy and talents of all of our people, regardless of religious faith, race or national origin.
A newborn child today does not know how to hate or stereotype another human being; that behavior must be learned. And, intolerance typically begins with quiet acts of indignity at home. To truly move forward as one community, we must find a way to honestly and openly discuss our differences and educate one another, to celebrate all the diversity of our towns and villages, so that we are stronger, not weaker.
Even before my first day in office, I made a decision to meet regularly with residents from every corner of RocklandCounty. During the past fifteen months, my administration has successfully engaged with all communities in order to improve public safety, promote economic development, enhance communication and improve relationships. I’ve met personally with civic groups, clergy, educators, labor unions, social clubs and students to show responsiveness in government, transparency and inclusion. I’ve heard the concerns of thousands of my neighbors… and, I will continue to work toward a united Rockland County.
The vast majority of our residents are people of good conscience who recognize the damage inflicted by the release of the controversial video. This type of religiously charged propaganda only serves to erode the pride in ourcounty we’ve worked so hard to achieve. As your countyexecutive, I will not allow the misguided voices of a few to drown out the deeper sense of community that drives us toward trust, openness and cultural humility.
It is not enough to condemn divisive speech or acts of intolerance. We must work to foster mutual respect. We must learn to partner with our neighbors to build a better Rockland County – together.