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The New Anti-Semitism

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As it turned out, however, the Nelson verdict was not the climax, only a beginning. Just last month, the religious violence continued. At 9 P.M. on Saturday, December 12, 62-year-old Rabbi Shaya Apter was attacked in front of the synagogue where he lives, on the Lower East Side. A Romanian who escaped the Nazis, the rabbi was stabbed twice in the stomach by a lone Hispanic man. Several hours later, in Borough Park, a gang attacked three 18-year-old Jews in a parking lot, pulling one from his car and punching him in the eye. Earlier in the day, in one of the stranger episodes, a 14-year-old Staten Island girl had shouted anti-Semitic slurs at 33-year-old Yechiel Leiter and then ordered her dog to attack him (the dog failed to respond). The girl struck again on Sunday, this time successfully, when she instructed her dog to maul a 15-year-old. The boy fell to the ground when the dog bit him, and the girl kicked him in the head. On December 14, Joseph Fredrich, a 29-year-old Hasidic man visiting from England, was robbed as he emerged from the subway at Kingston Avenue and Eastern Parkway at 11 P.M. Two blacks held a knife to his throat, yelled, "Kill the Jew!," and took his cash, his watch, and some Chanukah gifts he was carrying.

"During the Jewish High Holidays, there were nineteen criminal acts of anti-Semitism in the city."

"Some of us at one point believed," says Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, "that we were going to come up with the antidote, the panacea for anti-Semitism. Realistically, however, what we've learned is that the best we're going to be able to do is to keep a lid on the anger and the ugliness. But right now, for some reason, the sewer covers have come off."

That Jews should now feel threatened, unwelcome, even powerless, in what in terms of sheer numbers has always been the most Jewish of American cities—the most Jewish city in the world—is perhaps the best measure of just how deep the new anti-Semitism reaches.

The bias attacks were occurring at such a quick clip that Mayor David Dinkins's office was having trouble keeping up. "This was more than just the usual holiday bump-up," says Herbert Block, the mayor's assistant for Jewish affairs. "There was one Sunday when we were trying to put out a statement on an incident that happened Saturday night, and literally, as the statement was being written, reports about two other incidents came in within half an hour of each other." But if the numbers are cause for concern, they tell at best only part of the story. Tracking anti-Semitic attacks is one thing; examining their nature and character is something else entirely. Though any bias crime is obviously a hostile act, these most recent episodes were particularly vicious and personal. As long as anti-Semitism was reflected in crimes of property damage—swastika graffiti, knocking over gravestones, and the like—it was an issue but not necessarily a serious one. As often as not, these acts could easily be dismissed as the work of teenagers emboldened by alcohol. Suddenly, the problem was no longer that simple. "The quality of the attacks has clearly changed," says New York City Human Rights Commissioner Dennis deLeon. "In the past, there were more anti-Semitic incidents of property damage than any other kind. Now there seem to be more one-on-one personal assaults."

With the volume already turned up too high, activity during the second half of October pushed the decibel level even further. A poll released by the American Jewish Committee revealed that nearly half of all New Yorkers believe that Jews have too much power and influence in the life and politics of the city. Fully 66 percent of New York's Hispanics and 63 percent of blacks said they believed this to be true. Conducted over the summer by the Roper Organization, the poll also revealed—perhaps not surprisingly, given the other results—that 37 percent of the Jews in New York believe that anti-Semitism is a major problem, and 58 percent said it has gotten worse during the past year.

This was no longer simply about the murder of a 29-year-old Hasidic Jew from Australia who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nor was it any longer about the seven women and five men on the jury who believed that nine cops from three different commands had somehow concocted their stories. And finally, it wasn't even about what Mayor Dinkins did or didn't say after the verdict, and what he did or didn't do during and after the riots. As painful as it was for his fellow Hasidim, and for Jews all over the city, to imagine Yankel Rosenbaum lying on the hood of a Lincoln Continental on a hot August night bleeding to death from a stab wound, the murder had become only one piece of a much larger picture. Crown Heights was now a symbol for Jews—as Yusuf Hawkins and Howard Beach were for the black community—of alienation and anger that had been building for some time.


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