A seemingly unending stream of random attacks, graffiti and assaults in Orthodox areas of New York is leaving people to wonder whether anti-Semitism has made an intractable return.
The NYPD said it is increasing patrols in neighborhoods hit by a sharp increase in hate crimes. Mayor Bill de Blasio is opening a promised hate crimes bureau in his office a few months early. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is condemning the hate but blaming it without explanation on the Trump administration. This, despite the fact that most of the perpetrators are from minority communities where animosity for the president is strong.
Councilman Chaim Deutsch criticized de Blasio over his failure to keep his promise made several months ago to set up an office dedicated to combat hate crimes, blaming the procrastination on the mayor’s longshot presidential campaign. The mayor was at City Hall for just seven hours during the month of May, according to a New York Post report on Monday.
“We are already in August, and I still haven’t heard anything about it being active or anyone being hired,” Deutsch said in an interview with the Jewish Insider. “The commitment was made by the mayor that he’s going to have this open by June. We are waiting for this [to be] implemented.”
In what has become a pattern, de Blasio scrambled in response to the criticism and launched the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes on Tuesday. It will be headed by Deborah Lauter, who spent the past 18 years at the Anti-Defamation League and is charged with coordinating the city’s various agencies’ response to hate crimes.
“He always speaks out against hate so I know that he means well,” Deutsch, a Brooklyn Democrat who sponsored legislation creating the new office, told the Daily News. “But when you’re running a presidential campaign, you need to be on top of what’s going on within your administration. The buck stops with the mayor.”
The spat comes as anti-Semitic acts are at their highest in a long time. As of Aug. 25, hate crimes had increased by over 40 percent compared with the same time frame of a year ago, according to NYPD statistics. There was a sharp increase in anti-Semitic incidents in particular — from 88 in the first eight months of 2018 to 145 this year.
The most vicious assault came last week Wednesday, when a Jewish man walking in a Crown Heights park was randomly attacked.
The thug threw heavy rocks at Avraham Gopin, 63, and then jumped on him, punching him “20, 25, 30 times,” the victim told CBS News.
“It was hate,” Gopin said. “He said, ‘Jew, Jew.’ He said something in that direction… he was for certain looking to kill. No doubt about [that].”
Gopin’s son-in-law, singer Benny Friedman, tweeted that “there was no question this man had murder on his mind. My father in law tried to defend himself. He is in hospital now with a broken nose, missing teeth, stitches on his head and lacerations on his body.”
The assailant was shoeless and wearing a black T-shirt and pants at the time. He is still on the loose.
“We need safer communities,” Friedman added in a follow-up tweet. “Where I come from in Minnesota, this would be front page headlines. But here in Brooklyn this is just the latest event.”
De Blasio tweeted that the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the “despicable” act of violence, promising to find the attacker. Cuomo pronounced himself “sickened to learn of this attack on a Hasidic man, the latest in a string of horrific anti-Semitic attacks.” And Jonathan Greenblatt, the chairman of the Anti-Defamation League, said the organization was offering a $5,000 reward for the apprehension of the suspect.
Other elements of anti-Semitism also arose in the city. In Queens, the words “gas chamber” were scrawled in red paint on Friday night on the door of a private beach club, along with “Heil Hitler” and a few expletives. Managers at the Silver Gull quickly painted over the graffiti, which apparently had been painted during normal business hours.
Some members of the club told The New York Times of their frustration that the manager had not condemned the graffiti, especially since so many young children use the club.
Michelle Freedman, who lives in Downtown Brooklyn and has spent eight summers at the Silver Gull, said the fact that the club had only sent a terse email to members about the incident was “inexcusable.”
The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, Freedman said she was “hurt, angry and scared.”
“We cannot sweep this under the rug, we have to acknowledge when these things happen and all the members of the club need to know the club doesn’t tolerate racism or anti-Semitism,” she added.
The club’s general manager, Jamie Blatman, would not answer questions and instead referred a reporter to the police. “We have no comment because there’s an ongoing investigation,” he said on Sunday.
Cuomo condemned the graffiti in an unrelated press conference on Monday, saying it was part of “an alarming pattern in increases in anti-Semitic activity.”
“It is frightening,” he said, before blaming it on President Donald Trump. “It is part of this new national anger and anxiety and frustration where we are demonizing difference. I believe it’s the tone set by the president, who has unleashed the dogs of hatred. Has he been anti-Semitic? No. But once you demonize differences, once you release the cancer of hate, it is uncontrollable.”
“Survivors of the Holocaust call our city home,” de Blasio tweeted. “And we stand with them against anti-Semitism. We will NOT let words of hate intimidate. And we will do everything in our power to keep our people safe.”
But the hate didn’t end there. A Hatzolah member walking on Boro Park’s 13th Ave. on Monday was assaulted when an African American man threw a glass bottle at him. The suspect was arrested by police after a brief but massive search. The Hatzolah member was lightly hurt in the incident.
In Kensington, a Jewish father and son walking on 18th Ave. and East 2nd Street early Sunday morning were stabbed with a box cutter by three people drinking at a bar. The suspect also removed the father’s belt and struck him with the buckle.
Police said they do not consider it an act of anti-Semitism, since the two groups had been arguing before several blocks away in Midwood, at East 15th Street near Ave. J.
Vinesh Marajh, 42, was arrested after a helicopter search and charged with assault, disorderly conduct and harassment. The 45-year-old father was hospitalized at Maimonides Medical Center in serious condition while the 18-year-old son was stabbed in the face and neck. Both are in stable condition.
Police are still searching for the two other suspects.
The incident turned the quiet neighborhood just after the tracks on McDonald Ave. into a massive police crime scene. Emergency Services Unit personnel descended on the area and were searching for evidence. Police choppers were circling overhead for a while after the suspect was caught.
In upstate Orange County, several people in a car drove around and, yelling profanities, assaulted visibly identifiable Jews as the victims walked home from shul on Friday evening. They threw a potato in one incident, sprayed a substance into the eyes of another person, and tossed an unidentified object at a third. The driver stopped near a group of Jews and burned tires next to them.
The neighborhood where the assaults occurred, Highland Mills, is adjacent to the town of Palm Tree, formerly the village of Kiryas Joel.
In Crown Heights, the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force said it is investigating an incident in which an Orthodox Jew was pelted with ice while driving on Brooklyn Ave. The 34-year-old victim said he was sitting in traffic Thursday afternoon when a slab of ice hit him through the open window, injuring him in the eye. He spotted several youths running away.
Police on Friday released surveillance photos of the men but have yet to make an arrest.
“This week, we barely had time to process one horrific assault… before a second violent attack took place,” Evan Bernstein, the director of the ADL’s New York/New Jersey office on said Friday about the two attacks in Crown Heights. “This is not normal and it is not acceptable.”
Deputy Inspector John Buttacavoli, the commanding officer of the 77th Precinct in Crown Heights, tweeted that the precinct has increased patrols in the neighborhood “to ensure that every resident is safe.”
Avital Chizik-Goldschmidt, a columnist at the Forward, penned a strong op-ed on Wednesday, asserting that the city hasn’t taken “any real action” outside of “tweets and press releases” to stop the ongoing hate crimes against Jews.
“Is it because they do not see Orthodox Jews as real Americans, as citizens deserving of the right to live safely in their communities?” wrote Chizik-Goldschmidt, who was born in the former Soviet Union. “Are we too ‘other,’ too ‘apart,’ ‘disloyal,’ to earn the privilege of peaceful existence? Is it because we are politically inconvenient? If the perpetrator wasn’t a white supremacist who voted for Trump, then it didn’t really happen, did it?”
Chizik-Goldschmidt added that “our secular brethren may walk in the street and have the luxury of blending into the crowd, as anonymous New Yorkers, but we wear our identities on our sleeves. And this puts us at the very front lines of anti-Semitism in the United States today.”