It Can Happen Here

Stand for Israel  |  December 6, 2019

Jews crossing street in Brooklyn
Jews crossing street in Brooklyn

A few weeks ago, one of our Chicago staff members wrote about his tour through a Hasidic community in the borough of Brooklyn, New York. It provided a window into a fascinating and thriving Orthodox Jewish community, a subculture about which most people know very little.

Sadly, it is also a community under siege. Perhaps one of the most underreported stories in the news today involves a drastic rise in violent anti-Semitism in Brooklyn. The problem has become so serious that it recently led the Brooklyn borough president to comment, “The uptick in hate crimes in this borough is a blemish on this entire city and this entire country, and it’s a blemish that we’re not going to live with … We cannot ignore the crimes. We have to report them the way they are. We can’t sugarcoat it.”

More than half of the hate crimes reported in New York City this year have involved attacks targeting Jews. Most of these attacks have been against Hasidim, whose characteristic black hats and suits and side curls immediately identify them as observant, Orthodox Jews. There have been too many attacks to mention all of them here, but just looking at several in the past three months paints a stark picture: In September, an Orthodox Jewish man was slapped in the face with a belt by two men shouting anti-Semitic slurs. In October, a passing cyclist stopped a Jewish man on the street, slapped him, and called him a “dirty Jew.” Last month, Jewish men and boys were assaulted in a series of nighttime attacks. Many of these attacks have been captured on video by surveillance cameras, so we know this is not hearsay — the evidence is all too real and brutal.

Perhaps we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security. Sure, anti-Semitism existed in the U.S., we reasoned, but attacks were few and far between, and rarely rose to the level of outright violence. Brutal attacks like the deadly assault on an Overland Park, Kansas, Jewish community center, were anomalies. A widespread resurgence of violent anti-Semitism was simply impossible.

Then the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting happened. Then a man tried to run down two men emerging from a Los Angeles synagogue. Then the shooting at a Poway, California synagogue happened. And now, on the streets of one of America’s great cities, a Jewish community lives in fear, walking the streets while looking constantly over their shoulders, wondering whether the footsteps they hear behind them might be thugs ready to attack them simply because they are Jews. Wondering if the car that pulls up to the curb is full of men who will attack. Wondering if a rock might shatter their car window as they drive down the crowded streets of this congested New York borough.

We may have told ourselves (to borrow the title of a Sinclair Lewis novel) that “it can’t happen here.” But the message of these stories that much of the media — outside of the Jewish media — seems to pay little attention to is simple and disturbing: it can happen here. We ignore the message at our peril.