Jewish groups and political leaders have issued calls for increased protection in New York after a string of attacks during Hanukah left members of the region’s Jewish community on edge.
On Saturday night, an attacker stabbed five people during Hanukah festivities at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, Rockland county, about 30 miles north of New York City, in what Governor Andrew Cuomo called “an act of domestic terrorism”. The attack was the latest in a string of antisemitic incidents in the region.
“After the hateful assaults we saw this past week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it is heart-wrenching to see the holiday of Hanukah violated yet again. We are outraged because the answer is clear: the Jewish community NEEDS greater protection,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted on Sunday following the stabbings.
New York police chief Terence Monahan called the attack “a despicable display of hate”.
“NYPD cops, like those who apprehended the suspect in Harlem, are protecting NYC’s Jewish community. New Yorkers will see increased coverage across the city to ensure people of all faiths remain safe,” Monahan added.
Speaking at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn, where one of the world’s largest menorahs is set to be lit on Sunday evening, New York mayor Bill de Blasio urged New Yorkers come together to resist the rise of antisemitism.
“We have snuffed out hatred before and forced it back,” he said, announcing an expansion in efforts to educate the city’s school children on the issue, along with extra neighborhood policing.
“We as New Yorkers have the ability to stop the hatred. We have the ability to stop the violence we have done it before and we will do it again.”
De Blasio invoked the Crown Heights violence of the early 90s when black and Jewish communities in Brooklyn clashed violently.
“It took constant dialogue and constant effort to reach residents of the community, particularly our young people, and it took painstaking work. But the division that was healed and it has been changed into a community where people work together.”
New York senator Chuck Schumer called for a federal investiagtion: “The attack last night in Monsey was an act of pure evil. The cascade in antisemitic attacks is outrageous throughout metropolitan New York and America, and must not be tolerated. We need a thorough federal investigation of this specific attack and all of the recent attacks.”
Cuomo said he had directed the state’s police hate crimes task force to investigate the attacks.
Visiting Monsey on Sunday morning, Cuomo said the attack was “about the thirteenth incident of antisemitism” in the state of New York over recent weeks, and described the climate of intolerance as “an American cancer in the body politic”.
“‘This is an intolerant time in our country,’ he added. ‘We see anger, we see hatred exploding.’
Steve Gold from the Jewish Federation in Rockland county said the US was failing the community: “My parents were Holocaust survivors and my father made me promise to do what I can to make sure it never happens again. Today I can say I failed my father. The US has failed my parents and all Holocaust survivors. This cannot continue.”
Responding to the attack in Monsey, New York city mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that he could not “overstate the fear people are feeling right now”.
“We will not allow this to become the new normal. We’ll use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all,” he said, adding that the NYPD has deployed a visible and growing presence around Jewish houses of worship on the streets in communities like Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Boro Park.”
The latest and most serious of the recent attacks comes two days after de Blasio said that police would make themselves more visible in some Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Jewish populations after the antisemitic incidents during the holiday.
“Antisemitism is an attack on the values of our city and we will confront it head-on,” the Democrat mayor tweeted, adding: “Anyone who terrorizes our Jewish community WILL face justice.”
On Friday, a woman slapped three other women in the face and head in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, police said. Tiffany Harris, 30, was arrested on a hate-crime harassment charge.
Earlier in the week, a Miami man was charged with hate-crime assault after police said he made an antisemitic remark and attacked a man wearing a yarmulke in midtown Manhattan.
The incidents come less than three weeks since a Kosher store in Jersey City, in the neighboring state of New Jersey, was attacked as part of an hours-long assault that left six people dead, including three civilians, one police officer and both suspects.
The alleged assailants were named as 50-year-old Francine Graham and 47-year-old David Anderson, who appeared to be linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, which is considered to be a hate group.
Across the US, other recent incidents in which swastikas or antisemitic graffiti have been used to vandalize property include a high school in Encinitas, California; a Boston elementary school; and at a synagogue in Washington DC.
The latest attack in New York will increase pressure on authorities to step up efforts to protect the Jewish community in areas like Monsey’s Rockland county, as well as Brooklyn’s Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg, home to a large Hasidic population, as well as houses of worship.
“Obviously, there’s been a history in the region of violent attacks upon the Orthodox community,” Michael Specht, town supervisor for the area which includes Monsey, told the New York Times. “This is something very nightmarish to have happen.”
But some members of the Jewish community said they feared the recent incidents of antisemitism had already escalated beyond the capabilities of law enforcement to adequately protect the community.
“The challenge is that there are antisemitic tendencies rising up in ways that we have not seen in a very long time” ADL regional director Evan Bernstein told CNN. “This is beyond policing. These are communal problems, societal problems, that we need to get ahead of.”
Bernstein said attacks on the Jewish community were under-reported because ultra-Orthodox populations were unfamiliar with technology or too isolated to notify authorities. “There’s a fear of reporting, a fear of retaliation or they don’t understand how to report incidents,” Bernstein said.
In Monsey on Sunday, more than 100 Hasidic Jews came together for a procession that ended at the crime scene – the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. The rabbi led the inauguration of a Torah scroll.
Rabbi Yossi Fried, 34, shepherded a group of schoolchildren holding torches and told the Washington Post: “It has been tough, but in the Jewish religion, we are always taught that there is light, even amongst the darkness, especially with the children.”
“That is the message we give no matter what,” he said.