A series of anti-Semitic assaults and mass attacks in recent weeks has rattled New York’s Jewish communities. Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn have been assaulted on the street, a deadly shooting at a kosher market in neighboring Jersey City killed three people and a machete-wielding attacker stabbed five at a rabbi’s house in Monsey. These events have renewed fears of growing hate and questions over the safety of visibly Jewish spaces — they’ve also sparked a debate about the tradeoffs involved in making the community more secure.
Although white supremacists have been behind the most deadly attacks against Jews in America in recent years and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories have found supporters at the highest levels of the Trump administration, the recent growth in anti-Semitism isn’t exclusive to a sole demographic or political ideology. Both the attackers in New Jersey and Monsey referenced views from the Black Hebrew Israelites ― a religious movement with some anti-Semitic offshoots ― although were not official members.
In areas of Brooklyn where Hasidic Jews have been frequent victims of street assaults, there are also complicated and long standing divisions between Black and Jewish communities, which community leaders claim gentrification has exacerbated in recent years. Even though the tropes of anti-Semitism are well understood, anti-hate organizations say there’s no straightforward answer for why attacks against Jews are flaring up once again.
“We need to really get more information. Right now so much of why this is happening is speculation,” said Evan Bernstein, regional director for New York and New Jersey at the Anti-Defamation League.
Just as the explanations for the rise in anti-Semitism seem to vary, so have the responses. New York’s Jewish communities, which consist of over 1.5 million people from across the political spectrum, have taken significantly different stances on how to address the issue. Progressive groups have called for solidarity with other communities affected by hate crimes, increased dialogue between community leaders within New York and support for educational outreach programs. Some progressive Jewish groups have also criticized authorities’ promise to increase police presence in Jewish areas of New York as a move that will further divide neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, conservative activists and politicians are demanding not only increased policing but also harsher criminal penalties, while elected officials from New York’s Orthodox communities even released a letter asking Governor Cuomo to deploy the New York National Guard as protection. Some hard-right members of the Jewish community have also vocally blamed the left for anti-Semitism, resulting in praise from President Donald Trump.
As a politically diverse range of activists and religious leaders debate what’s driving the violence and how to address it, over a dozen major Jewish advocacy groups and community organizations held a rally Sunday to unite against the rise of anti-Semitism.
The differing political reactions to anti-Semitic attacks were evident; signs ranged from vows of unity in fighting against Islamophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism to slogans denouncing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Members of the Hasidic community, the primary target of attacks this past month, were also largely absent and some Hasidic leaders criticized the event in the preceding days.
The rally drew an estimated 25,000 people on Sunday, as demonstrators marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in a show of solidarity for New York’s Jewish communities. Many at the march on Sunday came with their families or as part of Jewish organizations, holding up banners from community centers, synagogues and charities. Some traveled from out of state to show their support while also highlighting other groups affected by hate crimes.
“Hate is hate. It’s unacceptable against Jews, against Blacks and Hispanics, against women and LGBT people,” said Gregg Levine, who took an overnight bus from Cleveland with his husband Howard Epstein to attend the rally.
“We’ve been marching for a long time,” Levine said. “And we’re certainly going to march to fight anti-Semitism.”
Demonstrators massed in Lower Manhattan’s Foley Square around 11 a.m., where organizers handed out signs with the rally’s slogan of “No Hate. No Fear.” Some waved Israeli flags and sang songs as they slowly shuffled through the bottleneck of Brooklyn Bridge’s narrow pedestrian path. Families took selfies with the Manhattan skyline behind them along the sides of the walkway, while NYPD officers and members of Jewish volunteer ambulance services waited nearby.
The rally drew a number of politicians, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and New York Attorney General Letitia James. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced at the march that he would provide $45 million in funding to create a hotline and increase state police patrols to protect religious-based institutions such as schools and community centers.
New York is experiencing its highest number of hate crimes in nearly two decades, according to researchers, while the number of violent attacks on Jews in the United States has risen across the country in recent years. There have been at least 13 anti-Semitic attacks in New York City in recent weeks alone, putting neighborhoods with large Jewish populations on edge.
“It’s scary,” said Rachel Golden, who works at a Jewish elementary school in Brooklyn, which she says has stopped allowing its children to play outside during recess over safety concerns. “It’s not good for the kids to have to worry about it.”
But despite the varied reactions from Jewish communities, the prevailing message among organizers and demonstrators at the rally was that it is time for the public to recognize the threat of anti-Semitism and for Jewish people to come together to fight it.
“The most powerful resistance to anti-Semitism is to be more Jewish and to be more embracing of who we are,” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum, senior rabbi at Manhattan’s Beit Simchat Torah synagogue, told HuffPost in the days before the rally. “The best way to counter it is to stay unified and focus on positive expressions of our Jewish identity and not just focus on the hate.”