RICHMOND, Va. — It's official: May is now Jewish American Heritage Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
On Monday, Governor Glenn Youngkin officially presented the proclamation and signed House Bill 1606, which adopted the non-legally binding Working Definition of Antisemitism adopted by the Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
The legislation, introduced by Delegate Anne Ferrell Tata (R - Virginia Beach), would act as a tool for "training, education, recognizing, and combating antisemitic hate crimes or discrimination and for tracking and reporting antisemitic incidents in the Commonwealth."
"Fighting this kind of hate is a top priority of my administration. And yes, the work of the Commission to Combat Antisemitism recommended to me that the commonwealth adopt this very bill," Youngkin said. "When we acknowledge that we live in a world where there is hate, in a world where hate is then translated into despicable actions, then we can stand up together and say there is no room for hate in Virginia."
Youngkin and other Virginia lawmakers at Monday's signing applauded its passage earlier this year.
"For me, when I read this bill, I saw hope," State Senator Siobhan Dunnavant (R - Henrico) said. "Because I think the way that you have defined antisemitism is a way for us to define other issues that result in hate and find paths forward together."
Youngkin signed the bill and presented the proclamation alongside Halina Zimm, a Holocaust survivor who said she never thought she'd see legislation like this pass in her lifetime.
She was just a child when Nazis invaded her home in Poland in 1939. A year later, she had to say goodbye to her family, forced to leave them behind while fleeing.
"My father said, I want you to live, I want you to survive," Zimm said.
Since coming to the United States years later, she's helped to educate others on the horrors she faced.
Both she and other Virginia leaders who spoke during the signing ceremony said they worry about the number of young Americans who may not know about the Holocaust.
According to a 2020 survey by the Claims Conference suggests 63% of respondents who consider themselves "Gen-Z" or "Millennial" did not know that 6 million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust. That same survey said about 49% of respondents in the United States had seen media that either denies or distorts the reality of the Holocaust.
"You hear more and more people deny the Holocaust," Zimm said. "That angers me. The more that gives me power."
Governor Youngkin said this legislation is critical when it comes to teaching about the Holocaust and antisemitic violence in schools.
"We have to teach all of our history, all of it. The good and the bad. And I think that is something that our new history standards have delivered on," he said.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were more than 3,600 acts of antisemitism reported across the United States in 2022, up 36% from the previous year.
Zimm said stopping antisemitism goes beyond a bill.
"It's very easy to hate someone if you don't know them. Get to know them. Get to know them," she said.
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