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December 29, 2021 4:25 pm
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Two Years After Antisemitic Monsey Attack, Killer May Return to New York

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Grafton Thomas, the suspect in an attack at a Hasidic rabbi’s home, appears with his defense attorney Michael Sussman before Judge Paul Davison at his arraignment in a federal courthouse in White Plains, New York, Jan. 13, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Jane Rosenberg.

Two years after a deadly antisemitic attack on a Hanukkah gathering in Monsey, New York, survivors and the Jewish community are still recovering, even as the assailant may be returned to New York for placement in a mental health facility.

Rabbi Josef Neumann, 72, was killed in the December 2019 machete attack, while five others were wounded.

Neumann, who lingered in an irreversible coma for several months before dying, was remembered by a survivor as “one of the most selfless people I know” and an “incredibly kind human being.”

“Since I knew him, he was a very poor man,” Yisroel Kraus said. “He never had a dime to his name and always goes around collecting money for other poor families. It was never about himself.”

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The killer, Grafton Thomas, 39, has criminal charges pending, but has been found mentally incompetent to stand trial several times.

“The Orthodox Jewish community is still under the influence of that terrible winter night,” local legislator Aron Weider said on the second anniversary of the attack, The Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported.

“It is on our minds and weighs heavy on our conscience,” he said. “It is of small comfort that the suspect is no longer on the streets.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul also marked the anniversary, saying, “We all have a right to be free from fear. We continue to stand against antisemitism and hate in all its forms.”

State Attorney General Letitia James likewise pledged that this “act of antisemitism and pure horror against the Jewish community will never be forgotten.”

“This wasn’t just an attack on the Jewish community, it was an attack on all New Yorkers,” she added. “We must all stand together against hate.”

Recent news that Thomas will likely be returned to New York from the mental health facility where he has been confined in Missouri has elicited mixed reactions.

US Attorney Damian Williams for New York’s Southern District said that while the request to transfer Thomas has not yet been formally received, the government “intends to approve it upon receipt.”

Yossi Gestetner of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council said that while he was “not aware of the details that led to this decision,” he hoped “that those suffering from the incident get the support that they need, and that impacted communities receive the practical tools and training needed to protect from future attacks.”

“Half of the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution protect the rights of suspects, renegades and convicts,” added Gestetner. “It’s therefore important to cherish those American values even in painful situations.”

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Walsh, who intends to seek murder charges against Thomas, said his “office continues to work diligently on this case in the prosecution phase,” and extended his “heartfelt sympathies” to the victims.

Thomas is also a prime suspect in the stabbing of a Monsey rabbi on Nov. 20, 2019, though he has not been charged with the crime. His lawyer, Michael Sussman, emphasized the insanity defense, saying, “The state court has not ruled to date on competency but I believe the extent of Mr. Thomas’ mental illness tragically speaks for itself.”

Although Thomas has a history of mental illness, antisemitic materials were found at his home following the crime.

Gestetner told local Bronx outlet News 12, “According to previous reports he was looking for Jewish-related stuff online and he traveled from one county to the next to look for a specific location to commit an act. So, it’s a little bit difficult to buy that it just happened.”

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