It was not a traditional bill-signing ceremony at the Statehouse Monday.
Such events are usually festive, with crowds of smiling elected officials, aides and assorted hangers on gathered around the governor’s desk for a photo opportunity.
Monday’s signing of a supplemental budget bill, by contrast, was a solemn affair. Included in the $452 million spending plan was a distressing sign of the times -- an extra $1 million to help houses of worship and other nonprofits defend against shootings, stabbings and other hateful attacks.
“There’s no place for this stuff in Massachusetts,” Gov. Charlie Baker said at Monday’s bill signing. “We have the backs of those who are here to practice their faith and to live their lives without worrying about being assaulted or, in some cases, maimed or killed because of those beliefs.”
The $1 million, added to $500,000 already set aside in the traditional budget, will be used to help pay for small-scale security upgrades at local churches, mosques and synagogues.
The need for such spending has become distressingly clear over the past few years, following a spate of attacks on the Jewish community, including shooting rampages at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018, and at a synagogue in Poway, California, in April. A series of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York City area late last year culminated in a mass stabbing at the home of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration on Dec. 28.
The North Shore and Merrimack Valley have not been immune. Communities from Peabody to Marblehead and Andover have all dealt with anti-Semitic attacks in recent months, ranging from hateful graffiti to the public taunting of rabbis to the firing of BBs through synagogue glass.
Responding to such attacks can be exhausting, and many synagogues don’t have enough money to upgrade their security.
“Everyone is trying to raise money to protect themselves,” Laurie Tishler Mindlin, executive director of the Merrimack Valley Jewish Federation, told Statehouse reporter Christian Wade. “Some might need an armed guard for events, while others might be looking to add a surveillance camera or a buzzer to screen people at the front door.”
The commitment to extra security spending on the part of the state is commendable, yet most of the officials at Monday’s bill signing recognized they were treating the symptoms of anti-Semitism. Rooting out the hate is a thornier issue.
“It’s sad that there is such a need for this,” Marblehead state Rep. Lori Ehrlich said. “But coming forward with assistance and standing together as we are sends a strong signal that the leaders of Massachusetts have zero tolerance for bigotry and hate.”
Ehrlich is correct. Combating anti-Semitism requires resistance from every citizen. An attack on the Jewish community is an attack on all of us, and the additional safety spending by the state sends a signal that we will not allow our neighbors to become victims.
Today, Jan. 8, is the anniversary of a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge, the last gasp of Nazi Germany’s military ambitions. On this day in 1945, the German army began a large-scale withdrawal of the Ardennes Forest . The outcome, however, was not always a sure thing. The German’s surprise attack caught the Allies off guard, and in the early days of the battle, many soldiers were captured and became prisoners of war.
One of the captured was Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds of the 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division. Edmonds found himself the senior noncommissioned officer among the 1,275 prisoners at Stalag IX-A. On the prisoners’ first day at the camp, Jewish POWs were ordered to assemble for their captors. Instead, Edmonds ordered that every prisoner assemble. The furious camp commandant held a gun to Edmonds’ head and threatened to pull the trigger unless he singled out the Jews.
Still Edmonds refused, telling the commandant, “We are all Jews here.”
Edmonds’ act likely saved the lives of the 200 or so Jews under his command. It also provided a lesson that echoes from the frigid Belgian forest of World War II to the polished, ornate executive offices of the Massachusetts Statehouse. We are in this together.
“We are all Jews here.”