There have been at least 10 anti-Semitic attacks in the New York region during this year’s holiday celebrations, officials say, but many of the city’s Jewish residents remain most stunned by the attack of a machete-wielding man who burst into a rabbi’s home in Monsey Saturday evening, injuring five of a group who had gathered to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah.
The attack came 2 1/2 weeks after a pair of assailants in Jersey City, New Jersey, a man and a woman, targeted a kosher supermarket in a Jewish neighborhood, shooting and killing four, including a police officer. Since then, Jewish residents, most of them from Orthodox and Hasidic communities, have been accosted on the streets.
This April, a gunman shot and killed a worshipper in an attack on a synagogue in Poway, California, wounding three others. In October 2018, a gunman stormed into Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 and wounding six.
“We cannot overstate the fear people are feeling right now,” tweeted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who called the recent acts of anti-Semitic violence a crisis and a nationwide epidemic. “I’ve spoken to longtime friends who, for the first time in their lives, are fearful to show outward signs of their Jewish faith.”
Such feelings, says Rabbi Daniel, have come as a shock for many of the members of his synagogue, who include a number of Holocaust survivors, such as the Jewish Center’s chairwoman, Ruth Lowenstein, who witnessed the burning of her family’s synagogue in Berlin.
More than half the residents in this part of Queens are part of the kaleidoscope of Jewish traditions represented in New York, which include many different Hasidic and Orthodox traditions, as well as Conservative, Reform, and secular. Tens of thousands of Russian-speaking Bukharan Jews from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have also made their homes here.
“People were always quite comfortable here – even I have always been very comfortable here, to tell you frankly,” says Rabbi Daniel. He notes, as others have, that Jewish people in the United States, and in New York City in particular, have always felt an unprecedented level of inclusion and equality when compared with other countries, and other times of history.
“But suddenly in the last two or three years, the climate has changed,” he says. “It is something where you tend to always look over your back all the time. It’s a constant feeling, that it is not as safe as it should be, even here.”
His synagogue decided to install a series of bulletproof glass doors a few years ago, just inside the ornate outer doors. Visitors are now required to buzz into the office and school, along with other security protocols.
Indeed, as the Monitor reported in 2018, there has been a reawakening of overt and violent anti-Semitism throughout the United States and Europe. In New York City, anti-Semitic hate crimes are up 63% this year, officials say, with 152 reports of crimes in 2019, compared with 93 in 2018.
“We are in some ways where we have always been, which is that humans are prewired to see an us and a them,” says Ken Stern, an expert on anti-Semitism at Bard College in New York. “And there are lots of messages in society from politics, from media and other places, that reinforce that sort of view of the world – that we’re not all one big happy human family, but we are looking and highlighting and searching for differences.”
“Anti-Semitism is one of those manifestations of that world view,” continues Professor Stern, “because historically Jews are seen as an other, a danger, and conspiring to harm non-Jews. We do know that when there is a glorification of the us versus them mentality, anti-Semitism is always going to rise.”