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A Tale of Two Synagogues
Posted By Phil Orenstein On May 3, 2013 @ 12:42 am In Daily Mailer,FrontPage | 26 Comments
This is the story of the glorious miracles that happen when freedom-loving people stand up, refuse to be intimidated and fight back. It all began back in February 2013, when the Men’s Club of the Great Neck Synagogue on Long Island, NY, planned a quiet informational breakfast on Sunday morning, April 14, with Pamela Geller speaking on the “Imposition of Shari’a in America.” Geller was joined by Greg Buckley Sr., who spoke about his son’s tragic “green on blue” murder at the hands of jihadists in Afghanistan. But astonishingly, a raging firestorm of intimidation, threats and harassment erupted over Geller’s invitation to speak, which eventually forced the synagogue to cancel the event. However, events ultimately ended in a victory for freedom of speech and conscience, which sent the profound messages of Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley Sr. reverberating across the nation.
For those who are not familiar with the speakers, Pamela Geller is a well-known author, investigative journalist, activist, captivating speaker and founder, editor and publisher of AtlasShrugs.com. She is also the executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (ADFI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA). She is perhaps best known for spearheading the protest against the Ground Zero mosque, as well as her subway ad campaign calling for the support of Israel and the defeat of jihad.
Greg Buckley Sr. is the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Greg Buckley Jr., who was one of three Marines killed in an insider attack in a “safe” zone on his military base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan on August 10, 2012. He was working out with fellow unarmed marines in the gymnasium when he was shot with an assault rifle by the 19-year-old “tea boy” (slave) of the “allied” Afghan district police chief that Greg’s Marine Battalion was charged with training. The boy-murderer immediately shouted, “I did Jihad” to cheers of the locals. Cpl. Buckley’s killers were apprehended but one was soon released to uphold the Obama administration’s policy of “cultural sensitivity” to the Afghanis. Greg Buckley Sr. is calling for swift justice for the murderers of his son and demanding their prosecution on American soil as terrorists.
The firestorm surrounding the talk started when an alliance of Long Island leftist and Muslim groups, the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI), the Unitarian Church, the Interfaith Alliance, and others, heard the news that Pamela Geller would be speaking in Great Neck. They launched a fierce campaign to harass Great Neck Synagogue Rabbi Polakoff with a flood of daily calls, emails and threats of a protest march on the synagogue. They slandered Geller as a bigot, Islamophobe, hate-monger, Nazi, and rallied their minions to shut down the event, which was all revealed in a leaked email thread.
The email thread exposed that the mastermind behind the campaign of intimidation and threats was Habeeb Ahmed, first vice president of ICLI. Ironically, he is also a Nassau County Commissioner of Human Rights. He used the authority of his political office to incite public outrage against Pamela Geller’s appearance at Great Neck Synagogue, exhorting his coalition: “We need to stop her from coming to Great Neck.” He provided the rabbi’s personal email and phone, and directed the alliance to strong-arm the rabbi to cancel: “[A]t this point let’s all make calls and speak to the Rabbi. Let’s tell our friends and family to do the same. Send this to all your email lists.” His email signature on every message in the thread read: “Commissioner, Human Rights Commission, Nassau County.” The hysteria continued as one person compared the synagogue event to “the equivalent of a church in the 1930’s inviting a representative of the Nazi Party to speak.”
Despite all the histrionics over Pamela Geller’s message, it is actually a message of righteous indignation directed against those who strap on suicide bombs, commit honor killings and beheadings in the name of their religion, murder those who renounce their faith, hang homosexuals, firebomb churches to protest the Pope’s remarks about Islam, incite deadly rioting across the Muslim world because of a cartoon caricature of their prophet, and commit mass murder and persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Her message is directed against radical Islamic terrorists or jihadists, not peaceful Muslims. There is nothing in her message that can be considered hateful or offensive to any ethnic group or faith. Yet a Human Rights Commissioner uses the seat of his government office to censor and incite a public campaign of daily harassment and threats against a rabbi for inviting Pamela Geller to speak at his own synagogue. Ironically, Commissioner Ahmed’s own mosque was identified as a hotbed of radical Islam in last year’s congressional hearings addressing homegrown Islamic terrorism. Former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Peter King, called the Islamic Center of Long Island’s leaders extremists who “should be put under surveillance.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, no one tried to stop or harass ICLI leaders Ghazi Khankan and Safar Chadda when they preached conspiracy theories that Israel and the CIA were responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11, in order to blame the Muslim world. “The Israeli government would benefit from this tragedy by now branding Palestinians as terrorists and crushing them by force” said Chadda, a dentist from Pakistan who was then co-president of the mosque. No one tried to strong-arm ICLI to cancel, when raving conspiracy theorist Mauri Saalakhan, who curses the Jewish lobby and praises Ayatollah Khomeini and global terrorist groups, was invited to preach at ICLI and sermonize that Hamas was a “resistance organization – whose armed resistance is legitimized by clearly established international law.” But the elitist hypocrites of the interfaith alliance relish their intimate relationship with Commissioner Ahmed and his radical mosque, and instead excoriate and censor Pamela Geller for fighting hatred and violence against innocent people. You have a right to be an elite fool in America, but a government official has no right to use his public office to crush someone’s right to free speech. In the process, the freedom of Greg Buckley Sr. to speak about his son’s “green on blue” murder by jihadists was also being quashed. While ranting about Geller, when Ahmed and his minions were asked by reporters about Buckley, they went silent, claiming they didn’t know.
Alarmed by this abuse of power, a group of concerned community leaders met with Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano and his top aides to express their concern about the mounting opposition to the Great Neck Synagogue event, and demanded action on the malfeasance of his Commissioner Ahmed, and called for his dismissal. Mangano assured us of his cooperation for the protection and safety of all involved, promising a significant police presence, extra patrols, and plainclothes detectives to immediately remove any troublemakers. He also assured us that he will take action to investigate Habeeb Ahmed for his unauthorized use of a Nassau County title to obstruct free speech. Soon after, Commissioner Ahmed issued an apology.
However, the opposition, harassment and bad press grew louder and harsher than ever. The Muslim/Interfaith alliance rallied left-wing Jewish groups to join the acrimony, including Jewish Voices for Peace, a radical anti-Israel group that supports the BDS movement, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, and others who have all likewise asked their members to flood Great Neck Synagogue with calls objecting to Geller’s appearance. Their strategy was to divide and conquer the Jewish community, by turning Jew against Jew.
In order to stand up to the opposition, a mass counter-protest outside the synagogue with flags, banners and signs for “free speech” and “justice for LCpl Greg Buckley, Jr.” was organized to defend the free speech of Geller and Buckley. Patriotic groups, Church groups, Orthodox Jewish congregations, and Veterans in uniform rose up from all across Long Island and Queens. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the speakers, whether the venue is a synagogue, church or civic hall, freedom of speech and conscience are sacrosanct in America. The Conservative Society for Action, Rockville Center Tea Party Patriots, Patriot Guard Riders, Nassau County Federation of Republican Women, and many other patriotic groups and freedom-loving individuals answered the call of duty to defend free speech in America.
Despite the fierce opposition and the daily barrage of phone calls and e-mails, Great Neck Synagogue and Rabbi Polakoff stood firm. The synagogue opened up its largest room for 1000 people to attend, including dignitaries, rabbis, and local elected officials, who stood in solidarity with Geller. What started out as a quiet little breakfast soon became a titanic event, as the war of words over hate speech vs. free speech spilled out onto the national airwaves, blogs and Jewish weeklies.
Further unrest was brewing. Longing for his revolutionary days of social justice activism in the streets, Rabbi Jerome Davidson, a left-wing rabble rouser and former rabbi of a nearby Reform congregation, jumped on the attack bandwagon against Geller and Great Neck Synagogue. In the past he notoriously fought against displaying a large menorah in Great Neck’s town square, and marched on Rep. Peter King’s office to protest the congressional hearings on Muslim radicalization. His synagogue cherishes their “relationships and friendships within the local Muslim community,” and boasts “deep and abiding connections with the Islamic Center of Long Island.” However, not one word was said about Ghazi Khankan and Mauri Saalakhan and other Islamic terrorist supporters preaching anti-Semitic tirades at ICLI. Rather, he joined the hysterical outcry against allowing a Jew to speak the truth about radical Islam in a synagogue. Foaming at the mouth he wrote, “Hate speech has no place in synagogues” and said on TV news channel WPIX that it was “his mission to continue challenging Geller’s visit to Great Neck,” and together with the Muslim community called for Rabbi Polakoff to cancel the event, and threatened a march on Great Neck Synagogue if he didn’t.
A few days before the event, Great Neck Synagogue convened an emergency meeting of the executive board and announced that after the weeks of incessant harassment and threats, and the public announcement of a protest march, the synagogue made the decision to cancel the event in order to avert the “legal liability and potential security exposure of our institution and its member families.” With the threats to the safety of the children attending Sunday school the very same morning, the synagogue’s executive board had no choice in the matter.
There was an immediate outcry from all those who were looking forward to attending and mobilizing for the event. “We lost,” they lamented, “this was a crushing blow to freedom of speech in America…the thugs and bullies won, and we, the decent, freedom-loving people in New York, lost.” They railed against the synagogue’s decision, calling it capitulation to bullying tactics of the left. When you give in to thuggery and intimidation, it only emboldens the opposition and endangers the safety of the children even more so. You could almost hear the popping of Champagne corks in pompous celebration by Rabbi Davidson and his Muslim and interfaith friends reveling in their triumph over right-wing “extremists” and “hatemongers.”
However, the next day, a miracle occurred. Two courageous rabbis stood up and voluntarily invited Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley Sr. to speak at their synagogues on the same day, Sunday, April 14, despite the threats of fierce opposition. One was Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg of Congregation Beth-El of Edison, NJ and the other was Rabbi Geisinsky of Chabad of Great Neck, five minutes from Great Neck Synagogue, where the event was scheduled for the same time, 10:00 am.
This was a miracle in more ways than one. Rabbi Geisinsky had a massive heart attack a couple of months before April 14, and was pronounced dead. He had no pulse lying on the hospital bed for 40 minutes. His doctors thought that if he lives, he would at best be brain dead. The entire community, friends and relatives prayed for their beloved rabbi day and night. Miraculously, he recovered completely, and is now fully active, and in great shape mentally and physically. He said this is why he is alive today – to defend and protect our fundamental freedom of speech and conscience and that’s why he opened up his synagogue to convey the truth despite the looming danger. When asked about the massive crowds coming to his small Chabad House, threats from Rabbi Davidson and the Muslim alliance and the potential for danger, he answered, “I’m not concerned with that, we need a strong show of force.”
The Sunday event was a mere two days away. At sundown on Saturday, immediately following Shabbat, Rabbi Geisinsky convened an ad hoc planning meeting of miracle workers from Chabad, Great Neck Synagogue and local Tea Party and community activists who put together the program and logistics in a matter of hours. Local synagogues were called upon to borrow hundreds of chairs that were needed for the anticipated overflow crowds, since the Chabad House seats only 200. Over $4000 was willingly donated from everyone in the room, the cost for finding late Saturday night contractors to set up a jumbotron and loudspeaker system the next morning for the outside crowd. Parking for over 300 vehicles was organized and coordinated with the County and Village police. Detailed security measures were arranged to digitally photograph each person’s ID.
At the second synagogue in New Jersey, Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg, who is the son of Holocaust survivors, is no stranger to controversy. He made his stand against anti-Semitism after a rude awakening as an organizer of interfaith events when Muslim imams refused to stand while Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikva,” was being played. He fought against future events where the politically correct interfaith and Jewish leaders decided to omit the Israeli anthem to appease the Muslim community. Despite personal attacks, he continues to speak out and tell the truth, and urges all Jews to change their meek persona, to stand up boldly and fight back. He declared, “I cannot keep silent any longer. The voices of my father and my mother, survivors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, compel me to speak out — with zeal.” This is why he invited Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley Sr. to speak at his synagogue on April 14. After he invited them, he reported receiving a death threat and 40 BB pellets were fired into the garage door at his home. He was not deterred. He said he believed Geller needed to be heard, “I would never force anyone to hear Ms. Geller, but neither will I stand by while thugs threaten violence merely because they do not like the message being delivered.”
At the end of the day, it turned out to be an incredible victory for the truth and free speech in the war “in the information battle space” as Geller described it in her speech on Sunday morning at the Chabad of Great Neck. In a resonant voice to the packed room of 200 in the Chabad House and outside on the jumbotron to the overflow crowd of more than 500, Geller intoned as everyone listened in rapt attention, “I am accused of being a hater, a bigot, because that is the war we are in. We are in a war in the information battle space, the war of ideas. All the bullets, bombs, and the bloodshed come as a result of what happens in this war – part of the war is to destroy anyone who speaks the truth.”
Outside on the jumbotron to the overflow crowd of more than 500.
Pamela Geller often says, “truth is the new hate speech,” but truth and freedom won the day on April 14 at two synagogues. It was a victory over the forces that demonize dissent and crush freedom of speech just because of a viewpoint that doesn’t conform with their delusional perception of reality. Pamela Geller and Greg Buckley, Sr. will be speaking at other synagogues and venues in the future, to continue to speak the truth and defend our freedoms. Many will oppose, and many more will stand in solidarity with them. Miracles happen, and truth triumphs over adversity when many good freedom-loving people stand up, fight back and will not be intimidated.
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