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NYC leads the U.S. on moral clarity

Like many Jews around the world, I have been feeling a sense of dread since the horrific terrorist attacks of Oct. 7. It’s an intensely personal feeling for me.

My son, Ari, was murdered by a terrorist while on a school bus crossing the Brooklyn Bridge 30 years ago. He was gunned down, and his 14 companions on the bus were attacked — their civil rights were violated — because they were Jewish. It was the worst act of antisemitic violence in our city’s history. So, I understand personally how rampant hate is in our society, especially when it comes to antisemitism.

Since that horrible day — March 1, 1994 — I’ve made it my life’s work to fight antisemitism, whenever and wherever it exists, including in my own city of New York. In times like these, it’s easy to feel hopeless, to feel like the world is not listening, and that the divides between us are too great, but I am proud to be a Jew — and to be a New Yorker, where our leaders are driving the very consciousness of our deeply divided nation.

Mayor Adams has shown himself to be a moral guide and source of clarity on what it looks like to fight antisemitism not only in word, but also in concrete action. Having known the mayor for decades, this is no surprise to me.

Without any cameras or fanfare, over the past three decades, he has spent hours in my home, and in my community, talking about Ari and the challenges faced by my family and community. His commitment to rooting out antisemitism is unwavering, and now with eyes turned toward New York’s educational institutions, from Columbia University to our public schools, it’s clear that decisive and proactive action is critical.

When the mayor and the NYPD got the call to address unruly protests on our city’s college campuses, supported by organized outside agitators, they moved swiftly and safely to restore peace and calm. Without any violence, the city is sending a clear message, as Mayor Adams said himself: “we are not surrendering our way of life.”

This reminds us that we are fighting not only for the Jewish people or the Palestinian people, but also for the American people. For college campuses to be places of peace. For young people to be taught genuine respect for others. For the right to protest with civility and without harm to persons or destruction of property. For a safe, secure, and tolerant world.

Eventually the damaged windows will be repaired and chaos on campus will dissipate. But what must remain is our courage, leadership, and wisdom. We must stand up to hate and guide our young people into understanding that their words have implications, and their actions have consequences. We must continue to strive to educate our future generation.

The mayor knows that he holds the youth of our great city in his hands. Children are not born with hate. They learn it. We need to reverse this trend.

With the city’s support, thousands of our city’s children have visited the Jewish Children’s Museum, built in Ari’s memory, where children of every ethnicity and religion can learn about the history and culture of the Jewish people and to learn respect and understanding for them as people. You can experience it in the halls of the museum, and even see it on the front of the building — the faces of children of every imaginable background, all together as one.

My son Ari never had the chance to go to college or form his own political beliefs. But his memory lives on, and I will be his mother forever. We must never forget what he lived — as a vibrant teenager and a proud Jew — and how he died.

And as we pause this week for Holocaust Remembrance, which also happens to coincide with Ari’s birthday, we must also remember what Elie Wiesel taught us: that “silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Many in this country were silent when Ari was murdered in 1994, afraid to acknowledge that terrorism exists, and that antisemitism was alive and well. But with the steadfast support of Mayor Adams, our police department, and our other courageous city leaders, we must refuse to stay silent, and must be heard.

Halberstam is a community leader and an outspoken activist on antisemitism and one of the founders of the Jewish Children’s Museum, which was dedicated in the memory of her son, Ari.


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