New York clergy denounce anti-semitic violence following slew of attacks
Micah DanneyDecember 31, 2019
NEW YORK — The Rev. Al Sharpton assembled a group of black clergy and civil rights leaders to meet with a New York rabbi on Monday, a day after five people were stabbed at a Hanukkah celebration about 30 miles north of Manhattan.
The attack came after a spate of anti-semitic incidents in New York City the previous week and a deadly shooting in nearby Jersey City. The NYPD is investigating four separate attacks that occurred within 24 hours.
Sharpton spoke at a press conference alongside Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU).
“I am terribly disturbed by the recent anti-Semitic attacks on Jews, and particularly because they were perpetrated by members of the African American community,” Sharpton said. “Rabbi Schneier and I have worked together for many years to bring our respective communities closer together. Today, we must work together to start to repair the damage and terrible pain these acts have caused.”
Schneier co-founded the FFEU in 1989 amid rising tensions between the Jewish and black communities in New York City. “Today we discussed concrete ways the Jewish and African-American communities can come together to promote our common interests and stem the differences that lead to such violent acts of hatred,” he said. “There is much to be done and we will move swiftly.”
Schneier said the plan is to broaden their coalition. That work will begin next week, he said, and will aim to include influential people like athletes, celebrities and clergy speaking out against anti-semitism.
“That ultimately will have the greatest impact on any particular community,” he said.
Circumstances of the attacks have varied. On Dec. 10, a man and woman attacked a kosher market in Jersey City, N.J. after they shot and killed a detective who had approached them. Three people inside the market were killed. The shooters died after a standoff with police.
On Dec. 23, a 65-year-old Orthodox Jewish man in midtown Manhattan was looking at his phone when police said a man said “F**k you, Jew” and punched him in the face, knocking him to the ground and kicking him. Steven Jorge, 28, of Miami, Florida, was arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. A judge ordered him to undergo a psychiatric exam, local media reported.
The next day, a Jewish man was followed by eight teenagers in Brooklyn, one of whom hit him in the head before they ran away.
On Dec. 25, a 40-year-old Jewish man “in traditional religious Jewish clothing” was punched in the face by an unknown assailant who fled, ABC News reported.
The next day, a 34-year-old Jewish mother walking with her young son was assaulted by a homeless woman who yelled, “You f------ Jew! Your end is coming!” and hit the mother in the head with a bag, according to police.
Ayana Logan, 42, was arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime and child endangerment, the Daily News reported. A judge released her on the condition that she participate in a mental health program run by the city.
A day after that attack, Dec. 27, a woman yelled, “F-U Jews” and slapped three Jewish women outside the Chabad Lubavitch headquarters in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, the New York Daily News reported. Tiffany Harris, 30, was charged in that incident.
In the latest and most serious attack, Grafton Thomas, 37, is accused of entering a rabbi’s home in Monsey, N.Y., on Saturday night and injured five people with a machete. Investigators said he searched online for infor...out Hitler and expressed anti-semitic bias in his journal. His family says he has a long history of mental illness. Thomas faces federal hate crime charges.
The history of tension between Brooklyn’s black and Jewish communities goes back decades. In 1991 — two years after Schneier founded his organization — the Crown Heights race riot broke out after a car that a rabbi was riding in struck two black children. One of them later died.
Reconciliation efforts led by local community leaders made progress in the years since, but issues like gentrification, rising rents and intercultural animosity continue to stoke resentments.
"The average person is going to say, 'Yeah, those Jews — you know they come in and take up all the land,' and, 'Another Jewman bought the building,'" Pastor Gil Monrose, of Brooklyn, told WNYC earlier this year. "That's just the kind of talk that you're hearing."
While there are indications that at least a few suspects in the recent attacks may have mental health issues, that shouldn’t deflect from the underlying problem.
“That can always be a contributing factor but you can’t hide behind the excuse or rationale of mental illness,” Schneier said. “The fact is that anti-semitism is on the rise.”