The Hate Crimes Task Unit of the New York City Police Department has investigated a series of assaults in recent days in heavily Jewish Brooklyn neighborhoods — one suspected assailant was already taken into custody — but the attacks are not necessarily considered part of a wave of anti-Semitism, according to experts on community security.
But the leader of Williamsburg’s main Jewish community organization said the residents of that neighborhood, home to the Satmar chasidim and several other chasidic groups, feel that the attacks there on early Monday probably were anti-Semitic.
“The community is extremely, extremely terrified,” said Rabbi David Niederman, executive director of that neighborhood’s United Jewish Organizations. The latest attack, he said, “came on the heels of so many incidents” that targeted members of New York City’s Jewish community earlier this year.
“I’m not sure this was a hate crime — nobody can be sure,” Rabbi Niederman said, asking, “Whom did they target?”
While, according to witnesses, no anti-Semitic epithets or warnings were overheard on Monday, Williamsburg residents point out that “other people” — non-Jews — who were not attacked were on the streets of Williamsburg at the time “Jews were attacked,” he said.
“That people should not be able to go to the synagogue is very frightening,” the rabbi said. “You are required to go to shul and to study and to pray.”
It is possible, Rabbi Niederman said, that people who attack Jews for anti-Semitic reasons will refrain from making anti-Jewish comments in order to avoid a hate crime charge if arrested. “If someone is smart, he will attack people but will not say anything [damaging].”
David Pollock, JCRC associate executive director, said there is no indication that the attacks in Crown Heights and Williamsburg are connected, or are part of a citywide increase in anti-Semitic violence against black hat and chasidic Jews.
“No [anti-Semitic] words were exchanged between” the black teenagers and the three older, obviously chasidic men they attempted to rob early on Monday morning, Pollock said. The men, whose ages range between 56 and 71, were on their way to work or shacharit prayer services; two were taken to Bellevue Hospital and subsequently released, and the third man declined medical treatment.
“Robbery seemed to be the motive,” Pollock said.
The Williamsburg attacks followed an assault Friday night in Crown Heights of two Jewish men. The police arrested a 39-year-old man, identified as Kenya Dean, who, witnesses said, made several anti-Semitic remarks, broke a glass bottle, pepper-sprayed one of his victims and hit another man with a stick.
Dean was charged with harassment and hate-crime assault.
According to a NYPD report, which included a video of the assailants and requested the public’s help in identifying the suspects (800-577-TIPS ), no property was taken from the three men, and the assailant ran from the scene.
The police department “is taking this very seriously,” Pollock said, who declined to identify the attacks as a growing pattern of anti-Semitism.
“We’re not exactly” sure of the motives, he said. “You don’t know it’s a hate crime until the whole package [of arrests and suspects’ interrogation] are put together and the charges are filed.”
However, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement, “Anti-Semitism is a growing cancer that has been injected into the nation’s body … in New York we will continue to stand united [against] all acts of hatred and intolerance.”
Cuomo directed the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to work with the NYPD in investigating the latest attacks.
Police have subsequently deployed extra patrols around the neighborhood, home of the Chabad-Lubavitch chasidic movement.
While “people are concerned” in the two neighborhoods, Pollock said, the recent attack on charedi Jews here came after “a period of months” in which “no such incidents” involving visibly Jewish targets took place.
Attacks with identified Jewish victims earlier this year included the sucker-punching of a Lubavitch man in Crown Heights in January, a Hispanic man yelling at two teenage girls in the same neighborhood in May, two violent assaults on chasidic men in Williamsburg later that month, and an unprovoked attack that month on a charedi woman in Lefferts Park.
“We have to be very careful” about implying a wave of anti-Semitic violence until police determine “what the motivation was” for each attack on a Jew, said Alex Rosemberg, director of community affairs at the Anti-Defamation League’s New York-New Jersey regional office. “We’re not yet calling” the assaults in Williamsburg anti-Semitic, he said. “When it comes to motivation, [determining] motivation is a very delicate situation.”
Noting a 55 percent rise in anti-Jewish hate crime assaults in New York State last year, to 17, all of them in New York City, Rosemberg said the 2019 figures, which have not been compiled yet, indicate “a continuation of the trend of last year.”
“Is this concerning? Yes. Of course, we are concerned,” he said. “There’s always concern about incidents of anti-Semitism.”