From Rockland to Brooklyn, anti-Semitic attacks become more frequent

Gov. Andrew Cuomo visits with Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at his home where multiple people were stabbed while celebrating Hanukkah on Sunday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo visits with Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at his home where multiple people were stabbed while celebrating Hanukkah on Sunday.
Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo
Gov. Andrew Cuomo visits with Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg at his home where multiple people were stabbed while celebrating Hanukkah on Sunday.

From Rockland to Brooklyn, anti-Semitic attacks become more frequent

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio are responding with more police in Jewish neighborhoods.
December 30, 2019

On Saturday, the seventh night of Hanukkah, five people were stabbed at a Hasidic rabbi’s home in Rockland County.

Many were gathered at Chaim Rottenberg’s house in Monsey – which has a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish population – to light Hanukkah candles and celebrate the holiday when a stranger wielding a machete burst into Rottenberg’s home and began attacking people, according to The New York Times. Four of the stabbing victims have been released from the hospital, while one victim remains in critical condition, as of Monday.

Federal prosecutors charged the suspect, Grafton Thomas, with hate crimes after uncovering his handwritten journals that expressed anti-Semitic views, according to the Times. Thomas is also facing five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary; he pleaded not guilty to all charges. On Sunday, Thomas’ lawyer, Michael Sussman, issued a statement that said Thomas “had a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations” and did not have a “known history of anti-Semitism.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism” and directed the New York State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate the stabbings. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also condemned the attack and said the city would begin educating students about anti-Semitism. On Friday, in response to a spate of anti-Semitic attacks in the city, the mayor said the New York City Police Department would ramp up its presence in three Brooklyn neighborhods with high Jewish populations: Borough Park, Crown Heights and Williamsburg.

On Sunday, Brooklyn lawmakers state Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, and New York City Councilmen Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger asked Cuomo to direct the New York National Guard to their districts and for a special prosecutor to handle anti-Semitic hate crimes, as opposed to local district attorneys. Cuomo has yet to respond to their request.

Though, not everyone is convinced that more police officers are needed. Jason Rosenberg, an activist with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, told Gothamist that he was concerned it would make people of color living in these neighborhoods more susceptible to “racist policing.”

“A lot of us know for marginalized communities it’s not a good outcome,” he said. “There’s a lot of racist and anti-Semitic policing that goes on, so we don’t want more policing, we just want more community.”

The attack in Monsey comes just a few weeks after a fatal shooting at a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey. Six people were killed in the attack, including one police officer, three people inside the store and the two shooters.

And just last week, eight anti-Semitic incidents were reported in New York City – all of which occurred during Hanukkah.

On Monday, a 65-year-old man was called an anti-Semitic slur before being attacked on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. That same day, two young boys were attacked by a pair of teenagers in the lobby of a New York City Housing Authority building.

On Tuesday, two incidents occurred in Crown Heights: A group of people hurled anti-Semitic insults at a man before throwing their drink at him, and later that day a group of people punched a man in the back of the head.

On Wednesday, a middle-aged man dressed in religious garb was punched in the face.

On Thursday, a mother was hit on the back of her head with a purse while walking with her son. 

On Friday, a man walked into the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters – a religious organization – in Crown Heights and threatened its employees with a shooting. Earlier that same day, three women in Crown Heights reported that they had been harassed and slapped.

The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force is currently investigating this rash of apparent hate crimes. According to the department, hate crimes are up 14% this year.

“We consider this a crisis,” de Blasio said Monday morning on NPR. “Really, there is a growing anti-Semitism problem in this whole country. It has taken a more and more violent form.”

Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
Amanda Luz Henning Santiago
is City & State's web reporter and social media editor.
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