One cringes at the reports of racist incidents in our U.S. media, but I would rather see reports on these and responses to them than our more usual child rape and woman murder reports that get repeated endlessly by underfunded media media operations needing ratings boosts to keep their personnel employed.

The current racist incidents in my neighborhood — the noose hung on a faculty office door at Columbia Teachers College — a separate institution from Columbia University, incidentally, despite the media carelessness with its identification — and an anti-Semitic scrawl in a Columbia University rest room are getting the strong responses that they deserve and are hopefully educating people yet again about the value of mutual respect for all peoples and religions.  The Columbia Spectator, student newspaper, puts it well in an editorial today with a proposal that should be writ large to affect all of us:

One Community
By Editorial Board

Yesterday, anti-Semitic graffiti was uncovered in Lewisohn Hall. The incident was the latest in a string of recent bias events that have raised questions about the safety of ideas and students on campus. If any good has come out of this, it is the incredible student effort to hold continual dialogue and address the root causes and campus culture that have allowed these bias incidents to occur. But such efforts are far less effective without administrative support.

When students have raised similar concerns in the past, the administration has been silent or slow to respond. But yesterday students received two e-mails—one from University President Lee Bollinger and one co-signed by Vice President Nicholas Dirks, Dean Austin Quigley, and interim-Dean Gerald Navratil—almost immediately after the graffiti was found. In the future, students should expect this kind of response from the administration as an automatic first step in times of trouble. A University-wide e-mail is a sign that officials are part of efforts to discuss how Columbia can be better, and the administration must continue to show its commitment to being part of that dialogue.

Both President Bollinger and Dean Quigley have been criticized in the past for contacting students too late. Quigley especially is far removed from campus life—many complain that he appears only for commencement and graduation to make a few remarks and then vanishes to focus on fundraising. However, recent events seem to have brought the dean onto campus—Quigley made an appearance at an event sponsored by the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Columbia Queer Alliance yesterday afternoon to take student questions and comment on the recent events. This must become a habit rather than a special occasion.

President Bollinger has also reached out to students in recent weeks, holding two forums with campus leaders, along with a fireside chat. In order to be an effective and unifying force, the administration must be more than a public voice in the time of crisis. It must be a consistent presence to which students may look for both information and support. The administration must not only listen—it must also be willing to commit to change.

Yesterday’s e-mail expressly suggested that “repeated administrative statements deploring these incidents are an essential part of Columbia’s response to their occurrence.” The University must make good on this promise and continue to communicate directly and openly with the student body. Such interaction must not cease when the controversy dies down and students should be able to expect an immediate response from the administration whenever a crucial event occurs. Even more so, the administration must do more than send e-mails and issue statements from on high—it must directly engage the student body in town halls and open forums. Student leaders have already made incredible efforts to facilitate student dialogue, but if Columbia is to be “one community,” as described by President Bollinger, then the entire University must be in attendance and participate in the discourse.


One is distressed to read, however, of yet another brutal racial incident reported in neighboring New Jersey in Israel’s Haaretz this morning:

Orthodox rabbi beaten with baseball bat in New Jersey town
By The Associated Press

LAKEWOOD, New Jersey – A man wielding an aluminum baseball bat attacked an Orthodox Jewish rabbi walking to synagogue last week, critically injuring the 53-year-old man and threatening to strain the already tense ethnic relations in a New Jersey city, officials and residents said.

The beating of Mordechai Moskowitz, reportedly at the hands of am African-American man, has put residents on edge in Lakewood, a diverse city of 70,000 near the Jersey Shore that is home to a large Orthodox Jewish population, as well as black and Hispanic communities.

An Orthodox Jewish middle school teacher was found not guilty this summer of assaulting a black teenager. And a few weeks ago, a group of Orthodox Jews was pelted with eggs by teenagers from another town, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Authorities have arrested no one and have no motive in the beating of the rabbi, police Lt. Joseph Isnardi said.

There’s a very, very strong feeling of revulsion and horror that this attack happened here, said Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, who belongs to the council of local Jewish leaders called the Vaad.

Witnesses told police they saw an African-American man walk by Moskowitz and without saying a word turn on the rabbi, beating him in the head and body with the baseball bat. Moskowitz remained in critical condition Thursday, his face disfigured.

Lakewood has seen large growth in its Orthodox Jewish and Hispanic communities, while the black population has shrunk, officials said.

“We have a very large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. And we get our share of spray painting, people riding down the road yelling epithets – all kinds of different things like that,” Isnardi said.

Some Jewish residents said Thursday they feared the latest attack would exacerbate long-standing tensions between ethnic groups in the town.

Abraham Sasson, 15, was with a friend who quickly pulled out a flier critical of the police department’s handling of safety. Sasson recounted how a woman at an area store had asked him the night before to walk her to her car only about 30 meters from the store.

“She was very scared to walk out by herself. That’s part of the reaction of the township against the horrifying attack that took place two days ago,” Sasson said.

As he pushed a stroller with his son down the street, 25-year-old Alexander Spira said residents were horrified by the attack. But he also noted there were places in the world that are less safe “People are going to Israel, where people are blowing up buses,” Spira said.


We are a multicultural society in the U.S. with residents of from every nation and of every religious persuasion.  It takes constant efforts which we do make to live together harmoniously and with respect for all individuals.  Hopefully we can project this message to the world in place of our neocons’ apparent drive to dominate the world with military prowess.  Perhaps we need more feminine leadership to tamp down the masculine drive to dominate any and all?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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