If you experience, or witness first-hand, an anti-Semitic act in Ulster County, you have somewhere to turn for help. The Jewish Federation of Ulster County (UCJF) has launched a hotline, (845) 859-9858, which will be monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, to accept reports of anti-Semitic incidents and help callers deal with the aftermath, whether it involves emotional trauma or the need for legal action.
The first step in response to such an incident is to call the police, said David Drimer, UCJF executive director. “The next call should be us.” Another option is fill out a form on the website https://www.ucjf.org.
The organization has been considering establishing a hotline for some time, given research provided by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) that shows 63 percent of American Jews experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism over the last five years. In a survey, 59 percent of respondents said they felt less safe than they did a decade ago, and 49 percent fear a violent attack at a synagogue.
The UCJF speeded up their plans for a hotline when they learned of three alarming incidents in the county over a recent four-week period. New Paltz police investigated a swastika graffiti at Hasbrouck Park and promptly reported it to the UCJF, the ADL, and a local rabbi. Subsequently, virulently anti-Semitic and threatening multipage manifestos were hand-delivered to a synagogue and a private business in our area.
“We believe it’s imperative to do this now,” said Drimer, “before something more serious happens. It would be imprudent to wait for something disastrous.”
Someone who calls the hotline must have actually witnessed the occurrence, as opposed to conveying a rumor. A digital service will direct the call to a volunteer or staff member of UCJF, and if they don’t pick immediately, they will be alerted and call back within minutes.
“We’ll ask people a list of questions,” said Drimer, “including what happened, if they’ve called law enforcement. If there might be a criminal act involved, or if they’re in anxiety of danger, they should immediately call law enforcement. We’ll ask for details of the incident and what resolution the caller might like to see.”
Resolution might involve an investigation, an arrest, an indictment, a policy change. In a case where someone believes they have been discriminated against with regard to housing or employment, a report can be made to government agencies for reporting bias incidents. “We can advise the complainant on framing a complaint, and if they’re not getting an adequate response, we might call in the media,” said Drimer.
He is particularly concerned about students, who can be subjected to anti-Semitic harassment online, especially on social media platforms. “We plan to vigorously respond to any confirmed reports of this type of activity that we receive, since Jewish youth are especially susceptible to exposure to this kind of hateful messaging.” SUNY New Paltz, despite a significant number of Jewish students, does not have a chapter of Hillel, the international college student organization that supports Jewish campus life. If speakers are invited to the college to discuss issues surrounding Israel, said Drimer, “there might be tension, and we’d help respond.”
UCJF will work with its partner organizations in evaluating potential legal action, engaging government agencies, and coordinating news media response, if applicable. If callers wish to remain anonymous, their identities will not be divulged to third parties.
Resources that can be mobilized include technical and logistical support from the Secure Community Network and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The Brandeis Center is an independent, non-partisan institution for public interest advocacy. It was founded by civil rights attorney Ken Marcus, who has returned to lead the organization after serving as Assistant US Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. UCJF has also made connections to government agencies, including the New Paltz police and Kingston mayor Steve Noble.
“We’ll work with you as long as you feel we’re making a positive contribution,” Drimer stated. “We want everyone to know Ulster County stands united against anti-Semitism, and bias won’t be tolerated. I wish we had the resources to represent everyone, but we’re starting here. We hope that the phone will never ring, that anti-Semitism will not rear its head. But we know that’s not likely to happen.”
To report an incident of anti-Semitism to the Jewish Federation of Ulster County hotline, call (845) 859-9858 or fill out the intake form at https://www.ucjf.org.