After five people were stabbed at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration in New York over the weekend, Jewish communities around the globe are trying to come to terms with increasing anti-Semitic violence, fearing what four U.S. lawmakers are calling a “slow-rolling pogrom.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack on the Hasidic Jewish community in Monsey, N.Y., “domestic terrorism” and directed additional police patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighbourhoods throughout the state.
“This is a national phenomenon that we are seeing and it’s frightening and it’s disturbing,” Cuomo said at a news conference Sunday. “If anyone thinks that something poisonous is not going on in this country, then they’re in denial.”
That same day, four Jewish lawmakers wrote the governor a letter asking Cuomo to declare a state of emergency over the recent string of attacks.
The letter, signed by city councilmen Chaim Deutsch and Kalman Yeger along with state Sen. Simcha Felder and Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, requested visible police and National Guard patrols as well as a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of anti-Semitic violence.
“Simply stated, it is no longer safe to be identifiably Orthodox in the state of New York. We cannot shop, walk down a street, send our children to school, or even worship in peace,” the letter read.
The letter referenced a surge in anti-Semitic violence throughout the state. New York police said they received at least six reports this week — and eight since Dec. 13 — of possibly anti-Semitic attacks.
On Dec. 10, a massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey left six people dead, including a police officer. Last month in Monsey, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue.
The recent rise in anti-Semitic violence hasn’t gone unnoticed around the world. A synagogue in the Netherlands that once counted over 1,000 members among its congregation on high holidays no longer posts its prayer services online and now operates on an invitation-only basis due to growing anti-Semitism in Europe.
Earlier in December, over 100 Jewish graves in France were painted with swastikas and anti-Semitic symbols.
In the United Kingdom, anti-Semitic graffiti featuring Stars of David and the numbers 9/11 was sprayed in purple and red across North London’s South Hampstead Synagogue on Sunday.
Police are unsure whether the numbers refer to an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jewish people were responsible for the 9/11 terror attack or a nod to Kristallnacht, a violent pogrom against Jewish people on Nov. 9, 1938, in Nazi Germany.
“I’ve had to report anti-Semitic graffiti in Hampstead a number of times before, including by a banned neo-Nazi group, but I have never seen anything approaching this extent,” Oliver Cooper, a Conservative councillor for Hampstead, told the Guardian.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic crimes in New York City have jumped 21 per cent in the past year. It reported 1,879 incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States in 2018, including more than 1,000 instances of harassment.
The most recent data on police-reported crime from Statistics Canada showed hate crimes targeting the Jewish population accounted for 19 per cent of all police-reported hate crimes in Canada last year, the highest rate of religious-based hate crimes reported to police. The rate fell four per cent from 2017.
Comparatively, crimes targeting the Muslim population fell by 50 per cent last year, after spiking in 2017 because of large increases in Ontario and Quebec. In 2018, police-reported hate crimes targeting Black people fell 12 per cent, and those targeting sexual orientation fell 15 per cent.
The 2018 Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, produced by B’nai Brith Canada’s advocacy arm, the League for Human Rights, recorded 2,041 incidents of anti-Semitism last year, a 16.5 per cent increase over the previous year.
“We are experiencing a disturbing new normal when it comes to anti-Semitism in this country, with expressions of anti-Jewish hatred surfacing in regions that are typically less prone to such prejudices,” Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement.
At the Beth Tzedec synagogue in Toronto, sweeping security protocols have been in place for years. Its rabbi, Steve Wernick, said the shul retains around-the-clock security, and all attendees are subject to bag searches upon entry. Staff are “extensively trained” for emergencies, he added.
Wernick, who came to the Beth Tzedec congregation a year and a half ago from New York, noted different types of violence prevailing in certain parts of North America. Wernick said hate crimes reported to police in Canada took on a more verbal visage, whereas in the U.S., hate crimes were more likely to be physical.
“The level of violence,” he said of anti-Semitism in America. “It’s very disconcerting.”
Wernick admitted that Jewish people in his community “are certainly anxious,” but praised the Canadian government for being one that advocates plurality and religious freedom.
“We feel blessed to be able to live in a country in which one can feel fully Canadian and fully Jewish. And that’s certainly the response of our elected leaders.”
Wernick said Beth Tzedec is part of an interfaith group with Christian and Muslim members, many of whom have sent their synagogue messages of support following the Monsey attack.
“There’s a renewed commitment amongst the faith leaders to deepen those relationships, because we know that it’s only by increasing the sense of a broader community between people that we’ll be able to keep these terrible acts and those who would perpetrate them on the margins,” said Wernick.
“That’s something that’s really quite beautiful and unique about Canada — the relationships that we’ve been able to forge as safe communities over the last several years.”