Karen Kates has lived in Sarasota for 45 years and remembers the Jewish community being in a different place when she first arrived from New York.
"When I moved here, the Jewish community (felt) like a very small group," Kates said. "Sarasota has come a long way in integrating the Jewish community into the Sarasota community."
The hundreds of people who gathered with Kates in support of the local Jewish community at Bayfront Park were a kind of testament to her belief.
Local Jewish groups and supporters came together for a Unity Gathering at Bayfront Park on Feb. 20. The event, hosted the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, was held in response to a number of antisemitic flyers distributed in Sarasota neighborhoods. The early afternoon gathering saw a large turnout with many attendees bringing "United Against Hate" signs, some even using the signs for shade when the temperature picked up later in the day.
Attendees heard from Jewish leaders, community figures and city officials including Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee CEO Shep Englander, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, Sarasota Mayor Erik Arroyo and Cherokee Park Neighborhood Association President Dan DeLeo, all of whom condemned the hateful acts and championed unity in the face of antisemitism.
Later in the event, Rabbi Michael Shefrin of Temple Emanu-El took the podium and spoke to his experiences since last week. He admitted to feeling defeated and angry immediately after the flyers were distributed, so he kept to himself and prayed. One of those prayers was for the community to gather in solidarity, and he was happy to say that prayer was answered on Sunday.
Shefrin urged the crowd to persuade their neighbors and friends to understand that antisemitism must be confronted and that silence isn't an option.
"It's you who we need to write the letters and send emails and have conversations at the dinner table, … wherever you find those people you have the chance to educate a little bit more," Shefrin said. "To tell them, 'We need you to take this seriously.'"