Community Leaders Discuss Strategies for Combating Anti-Jewish Attacks

Additional security, increased reporting and education, were all discussed at the virtual town hall. 

A Hasidic man outside Khal Adas Yereim Vien, a synagogue next to Division Avenue, where the grafitti occurred. Credit: Niamh Rowe for NY City Lens. (Feb 9 2022).

About 200 people logged onto a virtual town hall on Wednesday to discuss strategies for combating hate crimes that are on the rise throughout the five boroughs and the nation. The meeting was organized by City Council Member Julie Menin, who represents District 5 of Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

“I’m the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and my grandfather died in the Holocaust, and I feel very strongly about the need to tackle this,” she said in an interview before the meeting.

The events that prompted the gathering were two attacks – occurring a few minutes apart – against hasidic men in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant and Williamsburg neighborhoods on Friday night. In both assaults, a single assailant punched the victims. Then, on Sunday, two school buses belonging to a yeshiva were spray-painted with swastikas.

The town hall’s organizer, City Council Member Julie Menin, who represents District 5 of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Credit: Niamh Rowe for NY City Lens. (Feb 9 2022).

Anti-Jewish hate crimes are on the rise locally and nationally. There were 2,024 antisemitic incidents nationwide in 2020, the latest year for which data is available, more than double the number from five years earlier, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The trend was spotlighted last month when a gunman took hostages in a synagogue near Fort Worth, Texas.

In New York City, the 15 reported hate crimes against Jews in January was almost four times the incidents reported in the year-earlier month, according to police.

“No city has more antisemitic incidents than New York City,” Menin said during the meeting, which included local political and community leaders, law enforcement officials and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. 

Menin explained in the forum, that antisemitic incidents are happening in every sector of the Jewish community. Last month, her son saw swastikas along FDR Drive and just weeks ago, her constituents took out money from an ATM that had swastikas printed on the notes. 

The Jewish community in New York City is seeing an increase in hate crimes. Credit: Niamh Rowe for NY City Lens (Feb 9 2022).

Alexander Rosenberg, eastern director for the Anti-Defamation League, spoke at the forum in favor of increased reporting of bias incidents and collection of hate crime statistics.

“By reporting, you drive data,” he said. “And by driving data, you drive policy, and then we’re able to affect change.”  

The recent incidents have unsettled members of Brooklyn’s hasidic community. 

“We feel nervous,” Joseph Weider, dressed in traditional hasidic clothing, said while walking down Wilson Street, one block from where the school buses were vandalized. “On Saturdays, the Sabbath, we cannot carry mobile phones, so we are vulnerable,” Weider said. “If we are attacked, we can’t call the police.” 

Yeshiva Kehilat Yakov Inc, a day care in Williamsburg, Brooklyn near to where swastikas were spray-painted on buses, on Sunday morning. Credit: Niamh Rowe for NY City Lens (Feb 9 2022).

In an interview, Samuel Stern, a Hasidic resident of Williamsburg and the community advisory chair of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, said there is a need for greater security and education. 

“The NYPD should know that if someone is flagging them down on the Sabbath, they have to stop, because how else can they communicate?” he asked. 

Educating the community about who the Orthodox Jewish community is pivotal to reduce the conspiracy theories at the heart of antisemitism, Stern said.