Tuesday, February 18, 2020
A rabbinical student was walking down a quiet street in Brooklyn last winter, chatting on the phone with his father when three men jumped him from behind. They punched his head, knocking him to the ground before fleeing down the block.
When police officers arrested three suspects later that night, the student, a Hasidic man who asked to be identified by his first name, Mendel, learned that another Hasidic Jew had been attacked on the same block in Crown Heights just minutes before he was. Video of the earlier attack showed three men knocking a man to the ground before kicking and punching him.
The victims in both attacks were "very visibly Jewish," said Mendel, 23, who has a beard and dresses in the kind of dark suit and hat traditionally worn by Hasidic men. That, he said, made them easier targets.
"You could ask everyone if they're Jewish," he continued, "or you could just go after people who you don't have to ask any questions about because you can just see that they dress like they're Jewish."
Anxiety is increasing in Jewish communities around the United States, fueled in part by deadly attacks on synagogues in Poway, Calif., last April and in Pittsburgh in 2018. Anti-Semitic violence in the New York area has been more frequent lately than at any time in recent memory, with three people killed in a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., and five injured in a knife attack at a rabbi's home in Monsey, N.Y.
But the rise of anti-Semitism has affected different parts of the Jewish community differently. Although synagogues of all denominations have been subjected to threats or vandalism, community leaders say the risk of street violence is greater for Orthodox Jews who wear religious clothing like yarmulkes; black suits and hats; and wigs or other hair coverings in their daily lives.
"We know there are over one million Jews in New York City alone, and a couple hundred thousand of those are Orthodox," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, using a term that encompasses Modern Orthodox as well as Hasidic Jews. "They are being singled out in disproportionate numbers to their percentage of the population."
Jewish people were the victims in more than half of the 428 hate crimes in New York City last year, with many of the crimes committed in heavily Orthodox neighborhoods, according to the Police Department. Community leaders said most of the victims in the Monsey and Jersey City attacks were Orthodox.
The tempo of such incidents increased as 2019 ended and the new year began, with 43 across New York State from Dec. 1 to Jan. 6, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
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