Lancaster is my home. I was raised here in Lancaster city, with friends and neighbors of a variety of races and beliefs throughout the county. I learned very young that as a community, we value warmth and kindness, and we value our neighbors.
As we hold these values so dear, we often find ourselves shocked when they are violated. For the first time ever, the City of Lancaster has partnered with the Jewish Community Alliance of Lancaster to light a menorah in celebration of Hanukkah. We found, Saturday morning, that the menorah had been badly damaged.
Many of us were shocked, angered and scared to learn that this had happened. New video shows that the damage likely happened unintentionally, but the fear our Jewish friends and neighbors experienced was both intense and eerily familiar.
Conversations with Jewish friends, colleagues and neighbors make it clear that acts of hatred toward Jewish people are unfortunately common and incredibly predictable. When, in response to the damage, Jewish leaders put out the call for protection and solidarity, the community showed up. We showed up in such numbers that officers blocked off Queen Street to accommodate attendees.
But let’s be clear: The reason our Jewish friends were scared is that antisemitism is alive and well in Lancaster County. Antisemitism has been allowed to fester all over the United States — Lancaster is no exception — and Jewish people are routinely treated as “the other” in their own hometowns.
A short while ago, we learned that white supremacists and antisemites had rallied in Lancaster Township to announce the establishment of a political party rooted in hatred and violence against religious and ethnic minorities. We must ask ourselves why it is that those bigots, whose beliefs mock and violate our most basic values, feel safe and, indeed, emboldened to gather here.
As a Black person, I cannot claim to know the Jewish experience. But I do know that acts of omission and exclusion can escalate to acts of prejudice and discrimination. Standing opposed to hate, prejudice and discrimination is an ongoing project, one that takes each and every one of us. With any authority offered by my position, I urge each of us to collaborate in that project, aiming not only to address the fear of violence, but as a part of our walking in the world. Long before hate rears its head again, as it did when white nationalists rallied in Lancaster Township, we must make it known that it is not welcome here.
It seems the menorah was damaged in an accident, not as a matter of hate. But it is no less necessary to condemn antisemitism; no less necessary to build a community where fears of white supremacist violence are not so present.
As president of Lancaster City Council, I unequivocally condemn antisemitism and white supremacy as a threat to the safety of my friends and neighbors, to myself, and to the values that my community holds dear. On Monday, I will ask my colleagues to consider for passage a resolution formally joining me in this rebuke of hatred.
Furthermore, I hereby call on every elected official in Lancaster County from school board to Congress to raise their voice to condemn white supremacy and antisemitism. There are institutions and people in this community who will be uncomfortable with a full-throated rejection of these notions, as well as the less obvious, more insidious forms of discrimination. But the right time to take these steps and more was years ago, and the opportunity has been missed.
Nevertheless, Lancaster County can do better now, as we have come together and learned to do better in the past to end racial segregation. We must stand in solidarity with our neighbors. As for white supremacy, and antisemitism specifically, we must reject them in City Hall, the Lancaster County Government Center, in the state Capitol, and in the U.S. Capitol. We must name them in our nonprofits. We must ban them from our businesses.
Our families — Jewish, Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous or otherwise — deserve to live in a Lancaster Community that sees them thriving, one where justice prevails. Antisemitism seeks to divide us against one another and drive us to blame each other for our oppression. But Lancaster belongs to all of us, and it’s going to take all of us to ensure that no matter how we look, whom we love, or how we worship, all are welcome here.
Ismail Smith-Wade-El is president of Lancaster City Council. He is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 96th Legislative District seat.