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Pa. politicians, faith and community leaders, rallied against antisemitism Sunday in Philly

A man in a suit jacket and white shirt speaks
Matt Rourke
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro speaks speaks during a news conference in Yardley, Pa., Monday, Dec. 4, 2023.

U.S. and Pennsylvanian politicians, along with faith and community leaders, rallied against antisemitism Sunday at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in North Philadelphia.

During the “Interfaith Rally Against Antisemitism,” Gov. Josh Shapiro addressed the hundreds of people who packed the place of worship, many of whom carried signs reading “Zero Tolerance For Antisemitism.”

“Today, you are doing your part by being here, and tomorrow, I know you’ll continue to do your part,” Shapiro said. Adding they “have the power” to combat antisemitism and their “voices matter.”

“For me, I’ll make sure that Pennsylvania knows their story … We must learn from history, and we must make ‘never again’ a reality,” he said.

The rally caps off a firestorm week of antisemitism accusations in Philadelphia. Less than 24 hours earlier, University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill and Board of Trustee Chair Scott Bok issued their resignations following a controversial testimony Tuesday before a U.S. House committee hearing on antisemitism. Magill drew sharp bi-partisan criticism after responding, “It’s a context-dependent decision,” when asked if rhetoric calling for the genocide of Jews on campus violated the University’s code of conduct. She later attempted to walk back her comments on X (formally known as Twitter).

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Michael Balaban, the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, referred to himself Sunday as a “Zionist” and criticized Magill’s handling of the repeated antisemitic incidents reported on the Ivy League campus.

“In the two weeks following the attacks, there was a 388% increase in reported anti-Semitic incidences,” Balaban told the crowd at Shalom Synagogue. “We cannot be silenced, trampled on, or dismissed, and it does not depend on context.”

Speeches were scheduled to begin at 12:30, but they were delayed due to the long line of attendees waiting to get in, something U.S. Senator Bob Casey said was a “testament” of the “enduring allegiance to the people of Israel.”

“But it’s also a testament to the challenge before us,” Casey said. “We shouldn’t have to gather on a rainy day in Pennsylvania to talk about antisemitism, but we must.”

Rabbi Eli Freedman thanked the political and faith leaders who came together for the rally.

“I see hope,” Freedman said. “I see hope in our allyship. Looking at the speakers today, many [of whom] are not Jewish, this is powerful. When a pig’s head was left on the doorstep of a local mosque, rabbis and congregants from the entire region showed up there to condemn Islamophobia. And I am proud to know that today, in the face of rising antisemitism, many non-Jewish allies are standing with us.”

Sunday’s rally fell during Hanukkah, which local communities began celebrating with the Israel-Hamas war in the back of their minds. Since fighting broke out on Oct. 7, more than 17,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed, according to the Associated Press. Roughly two-thirds of those killed are women and children.