Saturday, April 17th | 5 Iyyar 5781

December 31, 2019 4:13 pm

The December Doldrums in Full Force

avatar by Thane Rosenbaum /


First responders work near the home of a rabbi on Forshay Rd. in Monsey, N.Y. Sunday night after a man entered the house and stabbed multiple people who were there for a Hanukkah gathering. Photo: Seth Harrison/The Journal News, Rockland/Westchester Journal News via Imagn Content Services, LLC. – The doldrums of December took on new meaning this year — most especially for ultra-Orthodox Jews. Holiday cheer was replaced by holiday fear, and the Festival of Lights was thrown into total darkness.

It is now, unofficially, the season for hunting Hasidim. Since Dec. 8, there have been 13 incidents of violence committed against Chassidic Jews — whether they live in Williamsburg, Borough Park, Crown Heights, Jersey City, and in Monsey in upstate New York after the home invasion by a machete-wielding African-American who drove 20 miles to go on a Hanukkah stabbing-spree.

Hanukkah lasts only eight nights, but there were 10 acts of violent antisemitism against the Orthodox. A 65-year-old man was beaten to the chants of “F*** you, Jews!” Another elderly man, walking with his young son, was set upon by a gang of teenagers. Three separate women were slapped in the face by a woman who unapologetically conceded that she did so simply because they were Jews.

Such fiendishness is not entirely new. Over the past two years, a Hasidic man lost all of his teeth after being hit in the face with a brick. Mothers were beaten while protecting their children. Another woman and her little boy were besieged by egg throwers. Hasidic women have had their wigs ripped from their heads. A brick weaponized to send a message of vile Jew-hatred shattered the window of a school for Hasidic girls.

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The assailants, in each of these instances, were mostly African-American.

Yes, an unpleasant, arguably politically incorrect and completely inconvenient truth. Few, however, have been willing to make this observation. Nearly all of the major Jewish institutions — the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, World Jewish Congress — left the race of the perpetrators out of their press releases.

It’s time to stop casually shrugging off violence against Orthodox Jews as being merely isolated and sporadic. And blaming it on mischievous teens out for harmless joyrides must end as well. The man who committed the blood-splattered act in Monsey was 38 years old. We have reached the epidemic stage in which taking notice and taking names must become a priority for all Jews — regardless of their denominations and their sensitivity to the demonization of others.

Alt-right antisemitism — whether in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, or Poway — is widely condemned as pathological; Jew-hatred by minority communities, however, is regarded as neither habitual nor noteworthy.

It’s all part of the intersectional universe that exists at universities and, apparently, now also in City Hall. It is the refusal to see Jews as victims, to perceive them as anything other than privileged and powerful white oppressors. Under this paradigm, people of color, given their historic powerlessness, can never be held accountable as aggressors. The categories of victimhood are locked in place and Jews may not apply. Their long history with persecution grants them no street credibility at all.

In such a warped black and white world, the gentrification of Williamsburg and the settlement of the West Bank are one in the same — Jews encroaching on land belonging to others.

And the result is that two of America’s most victimized groups have become uneasy neighbors rather than natural allies, with the consequence that the ultra-Orthodox now have targets on their heads, their yarmulkes serving as bull’s eyes.

It is a crisis in both communities. But moral courage is in short supply when other pieties take preference, and when the victims themselves are a minority within the Jewish minority — Jews who have resisted the American mainstream — and in their seclusion lies our lack of sympathy.

The cries of the Orthodox are matched by the whispers of nearly everyone else, including most secular Jews.

Where are the social-justice warriors, the tikkun olam addicts, the braggarts of personal virtue? Besieged Hasidim are no less worthy of public protest. Moral outrage is so easily incited when pro-Israel speakers are invited to campus, or when hummus or seltzer from the West Bank are served in dining halls. Tel Aviv professors must absolutely be boycotted; meanwhile, these fair-weather humanists can’t summon any humanity to mourn for the fallen Orthodox of Jersey City.

Jewish leadership fares no better and is now an official misnomer. Legacy institutions have demonstrated no capacity for bold steps while tottering on eggshells. Asserting the rights of Hasidism not to be terrorized by their neighbors is like a moonshot in this feckless landscape of Jewish surrender.

The situation is no better with elected leaders of Jewish persuasion. New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) are too occupied with impeaching the president to notice the chalk outline of Hasidic carnage on the city streets. Demanding legislation calling for renewed attention to antisemitic hate crimes might have been a more righteous use of their time.

Speaking of the president, the connection between his white-supremacist admirers and the violence against Jews in Williamsburg by African-Americans requires the kind of leap of partisan imagination that only a hapless New York City mayor such as Bill de Blasio could possibly conjure.

Here’s a New Year’s resolution for the complacent and the cowardly: Assure the safety of religious Jews in 2020.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor, and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He can be reached via his website.

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