The Philadelphia region’s Jewish community reacted with anger and sadness Sunday to the latest outburst of anti-Semitic violence, this time a machete attack at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah party in Monsey, N.Y.
Five people, including the rabbi’s son, were taken to area hospitals with stab wounds Saturday on the seventh night of Hanukkah. All of the victims were Hasidic Jews. It marked the 10th in a string of violent assaults targeting Jews in the New York/New Jersey area in just the last week, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“I’m heartbroken and outraged,” said Rabbi Annie Lewis of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel on 18th Street in Philadelphia. “I’m saddened by the hatred that exists. It’s very distressing.”
“It’s an act of terror for sure,” she said. “My role is to be with my community as we grieve and provide solace and hope so we can stand together against hatred and anti-Semitism.”
Local Jewish leaders were particularly concerned about the surge in acts of brutality.
On Dec. 10, a gun-toting couple went on a shooting rampage, targeting a kosher grocery store in Jersey City. The couple killed three bystanders and a police detective. Authorities said they had posted anti-Semitic and anti-police messages online.
Saturday night’s attack was the second anti-Semitic stabbing in Monsey since November. On Nov. 20, a 30-year-old Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed on his way to a synagogue just before dawn.
In Rockland County, which features Monsey and other hamlets along with five municipalities, almost one third of the population is Jewish and the number of ultra-Orthodox families has grown in recent years.
“We are deeply troubled by the growing pattern of violence that is affecting our communities and the Jewish people,” the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey wrote in a statement. “We must stand up and speak out against this hatred. We must take a stand against bigotry. We must eradicate anti-Semitism. We must teach that tolerance and acceptance are the path to chesed (loving kindness) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). For today and for our future.”
Rabbi Shawn Zevit of Mishkan Shalom in Manayunk said divisive rhetoric from the Trump administration has emboldened Americans to more readily express bigotry and hatred.
“It’s important to see that these actions of hatred and violence don’t occur in a vacuum,” he said. “When certain steps are taken to create an environment where people are demonized or locked in cages, feeling of fear, anger and prejudice can go viral. None of us are free until all of us are free.”
But Rabbi Doniel Grodnitzky of Chabad Young Philly in the Graduate Hospital area, said violent attacks against Jews have happened for decades in America. Grodnitzky said he has been verbally threatened and had anti-Semitic slurs hurled at him at least 30 times over the 10 years or so on the streets of Philadelphia.
“Our history tells us we always have to have two eyes open at all times,” he said.
“Nothing has changed. But the frequency is alarming and the level of violence is alarming. The attackers are much more brazen now and seemingly there’s no stopping it and no slowing it down,” he said.
Grodnitzky and other Jewish leaders say security should be bolstered at places such as synagogues, kosher markets, Jewish community centers and schools. “We have to strengthen our security so these evil people will think twice before they carry out their wicked plots. They need to know that those spots are not soft targets,” he said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who called the rampage in Monsey an act of “domestic terrorism,” has directed the state police to increase patrols and security in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state.
“There are people out there who want to cause us harm. We need to work together in the community to deter, prevent and stave off these attacks," Grodnitzky said.