As a rabbi in the Lake Success district of Great Neck, I was not actively engaged in the recent Village of Great Neck elections. However, the unwarranted personal attacks and threats against Steve Markowitz—and by extension the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center—highlight some disturbing trends within our Great Neck community.
I have known Steve Markowitz for many years. He has always been what we call in Hebrew an osek b’tzorchei tzibbur b’emunah, an individual genuinely and faithfully dedicated to the needs of our community. Steve has served with distinction as president of a local synagogue and as a passionate defender of Israel and Jewish causes. He has actively collaborated with a diverse group of religious and political leaders to combat anti-Semitism and all forms of racism in our county. Following an anti-Semitic incident several years ago, it was Steve who initiated a partnership with the Great Neck School District to introduce the Holocaust as part of the curriculum. He has cultivated strong relationships with a diverse population within our town and currently serves as chair of the Holocaust Memorial & Tolerance Center (HMTC) in Glen Cove. The disgraceful attacks against him do an injustice to Steve and to anyone dedicated to fighting hatred in all its ugliness.
As a long time Jewish activist, I understand and appreciate the efforts and passionate concerns of individuals and groups who speak out against intolerance, racism and religious discrimination. There are many legitimate reasons for all of us to be vocal and assertive when it comes to combating anti-Semitism and any other form of racism within our town. However, I would caution against impulsive reactions or threats which are ill timed and misdirected. Criticizing Steve and threatening to discourage people from supporting the highly acclaimed work of the HMTC is counterproductive and shameful. There are other more effective, constructive and positive ways to make our voices heard and to exercise our influence.
Great Neck’s diversity should be a source of strength and not a cause for ignorance or self-aggrandizement. There are too many of us who refrain from any community responsibility and only speak out (often vituperatively) when an incident touches our backyard. Attacking the character of noble, community-minded individuals like Steve Markowitz violates for me the Jewish prohibition of causing someone public shame. I suggest a more positive and global approach: establishing community forums and dialogues, which will further communal esprit de corps and provide opportunities for needed dialogue and conversation.
The era of intolerance must end.
—Rabbi Michael Klayman