Tuesday, December 31, 2019

New York Jews scared, defiant as mayor decries anti-Semitism ‘crisis’ across the US 

Police, state troopers and civilian volunteers stood guard at a Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn on Monday as Orthodox Jews marked the end of Hanukkah under heightened security. Photo: AFPPolice, state troopers and civilian volunteers stood guard at a Hasidic synagogue in Brooklyn on Monday as Orthodox Jews marked the end of Hanukkah under heightened security.

Worshippers expressed a mixture of fear and defiance, rushing into the Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters in Crown Heights two days after a stabbing spree at a rabbi's house wounded five people.

"Anti-Semitism has never been so bad. It's becoming more and more of an issue. It's crazy," said 23-year-old Chaim Kaplan after completing his prayers Monday morning.

New York, home to the largest Jewish community outside Israel, had long been a place where Jews felt safe.

But after Saturday's stabbing frenzy in New York's Rockland County, and a shooting earlier this month at a kosher deli in suburban New York's Jersey City that left six dead, the community is on edge.

"What are you gonna do?" asked Kaplan. "It's never been the Jewish attitude to back off. We've always been persecuted. It is what it is. We gotta fight it with love."

"I tell my family to go on and do whatever they have to do, like go to school and go to pray," said Ron Fulop in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighbourhood, also home to a large ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.

"Hiding does not help. The main thing is we pray to God that we be safe," said the 40-year-old.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a series of measures to tackle what he called an anti-Semitism "crisis" sweeping the United States.

"It has taken a more and more violent form," de Blasio told NPR, adding that the "forces of hate have been unleashed".

De Blasio's remarks came after Grafton Thomas, 37, allegedly entered Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg's house during Saturday evening Hanukkah celebrations and stabbed several people with a machete before fleeing.

On Monday authorities charged Thomas with federal hate crime charges, in addition to five counts of attempted murder laid after the attack.

De Blasio said he was increasing police presence in Jewish communities of New York, as well as adding security cameras and multi-ethnic community safety patrols.

Yitzchok Schwartz, 17, said more officers on the streets made him feel safer, but he still lived in fear of other attacks.

"We are scared," he said. "We also do not know what to say to the kids so they are not scared," Schwartz added.

Back at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, a worshipper gave the thumbs up and said, "God bless you" to Benjamin Garcia and three other members of Guardian Angels, a volunteer organisation that patrols neighbourhoods.

"We're just making sure that everyone is safe," said the burly 56-year-old, adding that they would make a citizen's arrest if anybody tried to attack the synagogue.

Last year, a white supremacist shot dead 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue – the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the United States.

A report in April from the Anti-Defamation League stated that the number of anti-Semitic attacks in 2018 was close to the record of 2017, with 1,879 incidents.

President Donald Trump tweeted that Americans "must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism".

De Blasio blamed rising anti-Semitism on divisive political rhetoric coming out of Washington and social media.

"A lot of things are coming to the surface. People feel free to do more of what they want," said Menachem Shagalow, holding his young grandson's hand as they enter the synagogue.


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