From the federal to the local, how New York is fighting anti-Semitism
Amid a spike in attacks on Jewish New Yorkers citywide, lawmakers at every level are pledging to take action.
Days after the mayor promised to beef up police patrol in Brooklyn’s Jewish communities, Gov. Andrew Cuomo spent New Year’s Day in Williamsburg, where he swore to boost the number of state police in all Orthodox communities across New York. The city’s congressional caucus is increasing funds to related nonprofits and houses of worship, the City Council is asking for more transparency from police, and the borough president wants to break bread with Brooklynites of different backgrounds.
While meeting with Rabbi David Niederman, the executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn, the governor also doubled down on a promise to intro a new domestic terrorism law at the start of the new legislative session next week.
“It’s not just standing in solidarity. It’s taking actions to make you secure in your community,” Cuomo said.
On the second day of Hanukkah, two young boys were assaulted in the lobby of one of Williamsburg’s Independence NYCHA buildings in just one of many incidents that occurred citywide over the course of the Jewish holiday. Around the city, police received at least eight reports of possible anti-Semitic bias incidents since Dec. 13.
As of Sunday, anti-Semitic incidents across the city were up 21 percent, according to NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea, who joined Mayor Bill de Blasio in calling the rash of crimes a “crisis.”
The pair announced on Saturday that the NYPD would immediately increase its presence in neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Crown Heights, Midwood and Borough Park, as the city prepares to roll out other initiatives in classrooms, on the streets and on social media in January to address increases in anti-Semitic incidents.
The response has also been spurred, in part, by the Dec. 10 Jersey City shooting at a cemetery and kosher supermarket, and another high-profile incident in Monsey on Dec. 28, where a man with a machete stormed a Hanukkah celebration at a rabbi’s home, stabbing five.
“You know what happened in Monsey? It was terrorism,” Cuomo said Sunday. “It was a hate crime and it was terrorism.”
In the meantime, Borough President Eric Adams and Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries have pledged to facilitate 100 dinners across the city, “breaking bread” with at least 10 people at each from various ethnicities, faiths and identities. The dinners, Adams said, are meant to deter hate and prosper meaningful conversation.
“Oftentimes, hate stems from ignorance or a lack of awareness about the meaning of particular words and symbols that are used to instill fear in certain communities,” Adams said. “Over the past year, we have seen a troubling rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes that have left many Brooklynites, particularly in Orthodox communities, feeling unsafe. Our new ‘Breaking Bread, Building Bonds’ initiative will help people from different communities to recognize each other’s common humanity and eradicate hate through mutual understanding.”
Some nonprofits and houses of worship will see a 50 percent increase in grant funding, the city’s congressional caucus announced Thursday.
The Nonprofit Security Grant Program helps increase security at vulnerable, high-risk institutions across the five boroughs, such as synagogues, mosques, churches and community centers. It was boosted as part of package of fiscal funding bills passed last month and announced at the Museum of Jewish Heritage by U.S. Reps. Max Rose, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarke, Eliot Engel, Hakeem Jeffries, Carolyn Maloney, Nita Lowey, Gregory Meeks, Grace Meng and Nydia Velázquez.
“We have all been horrified by the anti-Semitic attacks over the past few weeks and the rising trend of terrorist attacks on houses of worship,” said Rose, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. “This cannot continue, because everyone should be able to worship and pray in peace.”
The caucus also condemned the recent spike in anti-Semitic attacks in New York City, as well as Dec. 29’s fatal shooting at a Texas church.
The Anti-Defamation League’s 2018 audit of anti-Semitic incidents in New York, released earlier this year, showed a 55 percent increase in anti-Semitic assaults in 2018, all of which occurred in New York City. As of October, there were 323 hate crimes reported in 2019, an increase of 33 percent from the same time period in 2018.
As of Dec. 26, there were 183 reported anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York City, according to Borough President Adams’ office — a 22 percent increase over last year, and a 38.6 percent increase over the same point in 2016.
FBI hate crime statistics show that incidents at religious institutions like synagogues, churches, mosques and temples increased nearly 35 percent between 2014 and 2018. Figures for 2019 have not yet been released.
Earlier last month, a group of 16 City Council members penned a letter to NYPD Commissioner Shea requesting that hate crimes be tracked through CompStat, the police department’s crime database. Councilmember Mark Treyger posted a copy of the letter Friday to Twitter, renewing his call. The southern Brooklyn lawmaker, whose district is notably diverse, said the move would “increase local accountability and transparency, direct resources where needed, initiate proactive programming and create holistic, comprehensive responses.”
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