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August 29, 2019 1:46 pm

After Latest Violent Incident Targeting Community, Crown Heights Jewish Leaders Confident in Authorities, but Concerned About ‘Disturbing Trend’

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

An ambulance used by Hatzalah in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Crown Heights Jewish community leaders expressed confidence in the authorities but deep concern about growing antisemitic violence in the wake of a recent series of attacks directed against Jews in New York City.

There has been a spike in antisemitic hate crimes in New York over the past year, especially targeting Orthodox Jews in neighborhoods like Crown Heights, which are home to large Orthodox communities.

The trend continued on Tuesday, when a 63-year-old Jewish man was brutally assaulted in a Crown Heights park by an assailant wielding a brick.

The victim, Abraham Gopin, said, “He came to me, fighting with hands. I was protecting myself. It was a fight for several minutes.”

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The attacker, he added, was “determined to kill, no question.”

Several of Gopin’s teeth were knocked out in the attack.

Rabbi Eli Cohen, the executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, told The Algemeiner that the wave of antisemitism was not yet a mass phenomenon, but “I would say it’s a disturbing trend.”

“I’m not sure to what extent all these different incidents are linked,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one particular cause that’s underlying what’s going on. But statistics don’t lie, and we have seen an increase in incidents over the past year and a half.”

“Obviously we’re trying to get a handle on it — to the extent that some of the forces are not in our control — at least to press for increased police involvement, increased prosecutorial involvement from the DA in Brooklyn, and also get the other agencies and offices focused on it so we can prevent and respond, find the perpetrators of the different crimes — some have been identified, some are still out loose,” Cohen added.

“Also, there’s our work basically throughout the year to build a positive, warm relationship with our neighbors and community,” he said. “And that continues.”

Asked whether he believed the attacks were connected to a national rise in hate crimes and violence in the US, Cohen voiced skepticism, saying, “There are different phenomena out there that are all lumped together in one big pot, and I think you have to be very careful to take it apart.”

“You know, white supremacists out somewhere in the United States, I don’t see any common denominator between that and someone picking up a rock and attacking a Jew in Crown Heights,” he said. “They’re certainly not part of the same causality and I don’t see them coming from a reaction of one to the other. So, from that point of view, there isn’t one blanket statement happening over here.”

“People in general are becoming more polarized,” he noted. “I think there is some of that, and that might be a part of it. But I think it’s more important to look for solutions more locally, while at the same time still being aware of the national environment.”

Cohen largely disagreed with the claim that the authorities have not done enough to deal with the attacks.

“They’re very responsive to the specific crimes that have taken place,” he said, “so there, yes. Could they have given more resources? Yes. I mean, the amount of investigative hours you give to a murder or something like that is obviously more than you’re giving to an assault, although I think that they should give more.”

“Having said that, they have given serious attention to a number of these crimes, especially when there’s an immediate arrest or video, they’ve really gone the extra mile in the prosecution,” he added. “But regarding the cases where we did not have an immediate identification of the suspect, maybe more could have been done. So it’s a mixed bag on that one.”

Nonetheless, Cohen reiterated, “The response of the authorities in general has been good.”

Asked about the general atmosphere in Crown Heights following the latest attack, Cohen spoke of a resilient community.

“Generally, the atmosphere is good,” he said. “People are on the streets. People are going about activities. Everything is bustling. There is awareness, people are generally a little concerned or nervous, but life goes on.”

Yaakov Behrman, a community leader and director of a drug prevention program in Crown Heights, told The Algemeiner there was a larger phenomenon at work, related to a general rise in antisemitism and the emergence of openly antisemitic politicians like Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

“We see in Congress for the first time, we have congressional leaders in Congress that are promoting antisemitic ideas,” Behrman said.

“I spoke recently to a prominent 86-year-old rabbi with deep ties to government, he said that he doesn’t remember a situation like this in his 65 years of activism,” he added.

“Yes, there were always people on committee levels or behind closed doors that pushed antisemitic agendas, but never in the open and never with pride, and never when they put something on Twitter that has 2,000 likes when they promote an antisemitic idea,” Behrman said.

The problem, he stated, was both local and national.

“We see that the country is, unfortunately, we’re heading in the wrong direction and Brooklyn is heading backwards, which is also a very serious concern,” he said.

“I think that everything’s related,” he explained. “Whether or not there’s a direct relation or not, I don’t know, but when somebody’s at home and they hear their uncle promoting antisemitic ideas, they’re more likely to commit an act of violence against Jews.”

“I think there’s a lot of incitement going on, a hundred percent,” he said.

Like Cohen, however, Behrman believes that the authorities in New York are taking appropriate action against the wave of attacks.

“I think the police have taken these attacks seriously, they’ve responded in a timely manner, they have tremendous resources on these attacks and investigating them and finding the perpetrator,” he said. “As we speak, there are cops out looking for this attacker.”

Pointing out that local leaders, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had all spoken out on the issue, Behrman said, “I think that’s a pretty strong message: ‘We will not tolerate hate in New York.’ We’re talking about the highest levels of government. They’ve made it clear that hate will not be tolerated in this city.”

“But something’s wrong,” he asserted. “Something’s wrong with society, something’s wrong with New York. This keeps on happening. I don’t know what the right way forward is, but definitely what we’re doing is not working.”

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