New York is home to the first Jewish congregation in the United States, Shearith Israel, founded in 1654 by Jews who had been expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese.
In the three and a half centuries since, the Jewish population grew. Some Jews arrived in the late 1800s and the early 20th century, entering New York through Ellis Island alongside other immigrants.
Others came around the time of the Second World War, seeking refuge from the horrors of the Holocaust.
New York has been indelibly shaped by their presence.
And yet now, some would claim that Jews are no longer welcome, that they do not belong.
The Hanukkah stabbing in Monsey was only the latest in a string of anti-Semitic attacks.
Of 421 hate crimes reported in New York City in 2019, more than half were directed at Jews, according to police crime data.
In Crown Heights in August, a Jewish man in his 60s was hit in the face with a brick, breaking his nose and knocking out his teeth.
In November, an Orthodox woman and her child were walking in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn when three young boys threw eggs at them.
Just weeks later, two Orthodox teenagers were assaulted in Brooklyn, one of them hit in the head, his yarmulke removed.
Jews are being attacked on the streets of New York. New Yorkers can’t stand for that. What is called for now is a mass show of solidarity and rejection of anti-Semitism, which is among the oldest, most insidious hatreds on the planet.
In France last year, thousands took to the streets to protest a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents.
How beautiful would it be to see thousands of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, walking through the streets of Brooklyn in yarmulkes?
Such an effort is underway, planned for Sunday in Lower Manhattan. Marchers will gather at Foley Square, just north of Chambers Street near City Hall, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
The event was planned by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the UJA-Federation of New York, along with other groups. This is a chance for people of all faiths and backgrounds to show critical support for New York’s Jewish communities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio can help by joining in, coming together in unity to march against anti-Semitism alongside New Yorkers.
Both men, along with many other New York public officials, have already responded with moral seriousness to the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. Mr. Cuomo rightly described the Monsey attack as “domestic terrorism,” and said he would propose a state law to help address the scourge when the Legislature returns to work in Albany next month. Jersey City, where two gunmen killed three people in an anti-Semitic attack at a kosher supermarket last month, is also grappling with how to respond.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio over the weekend said the city would increase police presence in heavily Jewish areas. That’s a sensible step in the short term, given the palpable fear in New York’s Orthodox communities especially. But longer-term, flooding Brooklyn communities with police officers is not the solution, particularly given the history of overly aggressive policing tactics in minority neighborhoods.
The mayor announced a broader initiative in which community groups will meet regularly to help prevent hate crimes. A similar model has shown promise in fighting gun violence in New York. Improving New York’s mental health system should also help. The vast majority of those struggling with mental illness will never become dangerous to others, let alone carry out hate crimes. But some close to Thomas Grafton, the alleged assailant in the Monsey attacks, have said he has long struggled to find treatment for serious mental illness, statements that shouldn’t be ignored.
Other incidents appear to have been carried out by young people, sometimes in neighborhoods with long histories of tensions between Jewish and black and Hispanic New Yorkers. Mr. de Blasio has also committed to implementing anti-hate crime curriculums in the city’s schools, with a strong focus on middle and high schools in communities adjoining Orthodox neighborhoods.
What could be going so wrong in lives of these young people that their minds are twisted toward such ugliness? To fight hate in the longer term, it’s in the interest of all of us to find out.
These are good steps. But they aren’t enough.
Some, as always, are seeking to exploit this moment of deep pain. If we allow them to, they will divide us, pushing New Yorkers further behind the tribal lines that have always run through the city.
That would be a terrible outcome.
Every day, New Yorkers of all faiths and races depend on a deep spirit of pluralism and tolerance as they make their way through the city’s subways, parks and sidewalks.
These crimes are a direct attack on that spirit.
In New York, a city of immigrants and refugees, anti-Semitism is a threat to everyone. Just like white supremacy, it flourishes like a plague when cynics and bigots inflame painful divisions and spew hate for political gain.
It should come as no surprise, then, that violent hate crimes against other Americans — black, Hispanic, Muslim, transgender — have also been on the rise in recent years.
To protect all of us, New York needs to show up against anti-Semitism. We need to march in the streets, together.“