Many of you know about the visit to our campus yesterday by a virulent anti-Semitic group. We were alerted to their presence in Florida by the Secure Community Network (SCN), a program of The Jewish Federations of North America, late last week. Along with SCN, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) kept us updated on their status. Our Campus Security Director, Jake Silverman, had been monitoring them since their arrival to Florida and was in regular contact with local, State, and Federation law enforcement to keep us safe.
On Thursday afternoon, Jake’s cell phone began buzzing as local, state, and federal law enforcement offices alerted him that this group was targeting the Holocaust Center on our Jewish Community Campus for their next location to spew their Jew-hatred. With thirty (30) minutes notice, Jake was in contact with law enforcement and within minutes, Maitland Police officers were on campus, preparing to keep us safe. Mike, our security officer, secured the entrance to campus to ensure they would not be able to enter campus. Orange County Sheriff’s officers arrived to provide support and other local police departments, sheriff’s offices, the FBI and Homeland Security offered support if we needed them. It was an incredible thing to see as our efforts to improve our security on campus were clearly shown. Jake’s leadership in keeping us safe has always been something I have valued and he truly exhibited how extraordinary he is during this incident. Mike goes above and beyond to keep everybody on campus safe and while he always makes us feel safer by his presence, his true value, experience, and passion for our campus was on exhibit. The relationships with the Maitland Police Department and other local, state, and federal law enforcement paid dividends as we had their full support.
When this hate group showed up and was denied access to campus, they parked across the street and began spewing their bigotry, ignorance, and hate. It was disgusting and heartbreaking. I was overcome with emotion seeing and hearing them in a manner that was unexpected and a bit overpowering. As I turned around and looked at campus, I was amazed at the dichotomy that was occurring. On one side of the street were anti-Semites, Jew-haters, people filled with hate and evil. On the other side were beautiful children engaged in learning, being picked up by their parents and grandparents, JCC members coming to work out or swim, seniors coming to enjoy Jewish life on our campus. It was a sight filled with love, joy, and happiness.
Anti-Semitism is real and the power of Jew-hatred was on display yesterday. Also on display was the power of community. The national Secure Community Networks and ADL helping alert and prepare us, the planning by our security team and the relationships with law enforcement, the hardening of the campus that continues to occur year after year to keep us safe. People reaching out with love, care, and concern. I heard last night from a representative of the Muslim community in Orlando, reaching out in support.
Last night was Brave Choices, our signature women’s event. We honored 28 amazing women last night and as I watched the program, I was inspired, excited, and empowered, not only by the 28 women who we honored but by the 100 women of various ages involved in the event. Hearing them talk about the Jewish community in Orlando, of the passion they have, of the future of Jewish life, and how they are inspired was beautiful. Hearing the singing in the beginning was powerful and I encourage you to watch it on our YouTube page to be inspired as well. On a day when Jew-hatred and bigotry was front and center, this event highlighted the beauty and love of our community.
We are an incredible Jewish community in Orlando. While yesterday afternoon was certainly challenging, it also gave us a chance to truly see the beauty we have. I encourage you to reach out and be a part of this special community.