Numerous acts of anti-Semitism in the past week have left Jewish community leaders concerned for the welfare of its congregates during one of the most joyous celebrations of the Jewish calendar.
On Saturday, a man broke into a rabbi’s home in the town of Monsey in Rockland County where he assaulted the rabbi and those assembled there. Police said the assailant, 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, allegedly stabbed five people gathered in the rabbi’s home, including the religious leader’s son. According to the Washington Post, one of those attacked remains in critical condition. Thomas has plead not guilty.
The North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station gathered together Sunday, Dec. 29 with members of the faith and local officials from the surrounding area to show strength in the face of the violence, lighting candles on a menorah in light of the attacks. Rabbi Aaron Benson, of the Jewish Center, spoke of the need for unity and forward thinking as they looked to “come to grips” with recent anti-Semitic attacks.
The rabbi said such ceremonies are both necessary and helpful for the Jewish community, finding a way to respond to such unnecessary and unprovoked violence. While he said he has seen consistent acts of anti-Semitism over the past several years, seeing several acts of hate over the course of Hanukkah was something new and distressing.
“It was a way to express hope — that we will prevail over violence and hate,” he said. “People of the Jewish faith has faced such attacks and harassment for centuries, but we have always been able to survive, to stay strong.”
Other recent events during the days of Hanukkah have made Jewish leaders concerned. On Dec. 23 a man allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs while assaulting a woman in Manhattan. On Dec. 26, another Brooklyn woman was harassed by a woman shouting other slurs towards her and her son. The next day, a woman slapped three Orthodox Jewish women in the face in Crown Heights, which is known for its Orthodox Jewish population.
Benson said around 75 people came to the ceremony Sunday night, and while many of them were from his congregation, more came from surrounding communities. Fellow clergy from neighboring churches such as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Stony Brook also came to show support.
Rev. Linda Anderson of the Unitarian fellowship said such shows of support from non-Jews are important so that all know that no one faith is standing alone in the face of violence. Earlier this year, after an attack on mosques in New Zealand, she and other members of the local Three Village Interfaith Clergy Association and Building Bridges in Brookhaven gathered at a mosque in Selden, forming a ring around the building to show support. Anderson is the president of the interfaith group.
“The idea that we have to keep doing this is discouraging,” she said, lamenting about the seemingly constant violent attacks on minority faiths around the world. “But we will keep it up, we will stand for fellow faiths in our community.”
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) attended the ceremony and called it a “beautiful display of community unity.”
She said that after numerous incidents of anti-Semitism across the country, local centers have looked to review their own policies in protecting their congregation.
In terms of Suffolk County Police, she called them “proactive” in looking to stop such incidents happening locally.
SCPD said in a statement they have stepped up patrols at and around synagogues and Jewish community centers.
Benson said he has found that both the SCPD and sheriff’s departments have been very proactive in their efforts to confront anti-Semitism. He said the local precinct often reaches out to his synagogue and offered added protection for the location after the violent attack Sunday.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY-1) also condemned the attacks.
“Hanukkah 2019 in New York will be remembered for a sick amount of violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around New York City. From colleges to Congress to Hanukkah parties and synagogues, anti-Semitism is on the rise and on full display in many ugly forms,” he said in a statement. “The violent anti-Semitic attacks in and around NYC are being caused by raw hate, feckless leadership, a culture of acceptance, education and promotion of anti-Semitism, and lowering quality of life. All elected and community leaders need to step up to confront and crush this threat.”