Read the opinion piece on the NY Daily News site

By Abby Stein

New York’s Jewish community is suffering immense pain. Every synagogue in every neighborhood is overwhelmed with grief and fear.

For me, like for so many New York Jews, the pain is deep and personal. In addition to my Jerusalem-born father’s family still living in Israel, four people who I know from my formerly Orthodox community (very tight knit due to the nature of our shared experiences) were killed on Oct. 7.

That community alone has lost at least 12 people to Hamas’ terror on Simchat Torah, which is the joyous holiday celebrating the yearly reading of the whole Torah. Last Friday, as I shared my feelings and emotions in my capacity as scholar-in-residence at the New Shul in Manhattan, so many other community members shared similar stories. No one I spoke to was more than two degrees removed from someone killed in this atrocity.

We are desperately trying to hold our community together, grappling with the raw pain of victims while striving to honor our Jewish values of human rights and solidarity. The dark shadow of the Holocaust rises in our souls; a call to defend our fellow Jews, and at the same time, a call to resist the genocidal rhetoric coming from the Netanyahu government and its allies.

I wish I could spend my time now embracing and mourning with my community, remembering those we have lost. Instead, we need to speak up against people using my losses, our losses, to kill more innocent people, and to spark more hate in the Middle East and at home.

If that were all we were dealing with, dayenu — it would be enough. Instead, we have to contend with a new threat to Jewish unity: cynical politicians weaponizing our community’s pain to score political points.

Last week, Mayor Adams falsely claimed that his political opponents “carried swastikas and called for the extermination of the Jewish people.” That this is a lie would be bad enough, but even more offensively, it is a bald-faced attempt to capitalize on our pain for his political benefit. Whatever your views on the violence in Israel and Palestine, or on Adams, we must all recognize that as unacceptable.

True safety for the Jewish community is bound up with safety and dignity for all peoples. The united fights against antisemitism and against Islamophobia are absolutely essential in this moment. But unfortunately, the mayor is not alone among local politicians in trying to divide us. Reps. Ritchie Torres and Nicole Malliotakis have repeatedly tried to smear everyone endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) as antisemitic simply because the organization hastily tweeted about a Palestinian solidarity rally. A City Council member was arrested for bringing a gun to intimidate protesters at Brooklyn College. All of them have claimed to be fighting antisemitism, but the truth is they are only stoking the hate which now threatens all of our communities.

I may have my disagreements with some of DSA’s positions. But their endorsed elected officials are in fact the ones who’ve shown true moral leadership during this crisis. From Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman to state and local elected officials like state Sen. Julia Salazar, Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, and Council Member Tiffany Caban, what I saw were leaders trying to hold the same raw pain among their constituents that our Jewish community was.

These leaders had the moral clarity to condemn all attacks on civilians and all hate speech. They showed up at our community gatherings to mourn together with us. Their actions showed true empathy — something Adams, Torres and Malliotakis should learn from.

New York City to my family, like for so many New Yorkers, has been a safe haven when escaping war and violence. My maternal grandparents came here in 1947 after surviving the Holocaust, having lost their parents and most siblings. My father came here in 1967, escaping the war brewing literally in their backyard in Jerusalem. Those are quintessential New York immigrant stories.

More Jews live in New York than any other city in the world. There should be no space here for politicians of any party who see Jewish pain as their path to reelection. Jewish leaders close to the mayor must make clear to him that weaponizing our grief is abhorrent and unacceptable. We need empathy and moral leadership from our elected officials, now more than ever. The future of our community — and of our city — depends on it.

Stein, author of “Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman,” is a member of Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

Read the opinion piece on the NY Daily News site