New York politicians are at least talking about waging a more serious response to the frequent acts of violence and harassment targeting the city’s Orthodox Jews. Last week, Democratic Rep. Ritchie Torres, N.Y.-15, called for a federal probe of New York’s failure to prosecute suspects in anti-Jewish hate crimes, which have become so routine a feature of life in Orthodox communities that only the most egregious incidents ever become known beyond community media or the Twitter feeds of local politicians. On Monday, Mayor Eric Adams promised that assaults on Jews “won’t be tolerated.”
Attacks on Jews in New York are often treated as a parochial problem, not as a phenomenon with implications for broader civic and social health. Even if that changes, and even if decision-makers and the general public begin treating these incidents as an active civic crisis, the problem elides any easy political fix because it reflects a deeper corrosion. America’s most populous city prides itself on being a special place of safety and tolerance for the diverse peoples of the world, but the pace of attacks on visible Jews, along with the general indifference toward this shameful reality, reveal this to be a self-serving myth. New York is increasingly chaotic, violent, and small-minded, and its official and even semipopular fetish for equity and multiculturalism seems to have translated into even worse treatment of certain minority groups.
Over the past month alone, we found 13 reported incidents of violence or harassment against Jews in New York that appear to have been antisemitic in nature. It is a staggering number, proof that in New York City there is a sense of impunity for attacking people who look a certain way, along with a widespread desire to take advantage of the opportunity. The conditions are favorable for would-be tormentors of Jews in New York, even despite the statements of Torres and Adams. On Wednesday, three men who pleaded guilty to bludgeoning two Orthodox Jews on a Shabbat afternoon in May of 2021 for refusing to say “free Palestine” during an ongoing escalation between Israel and Hamas learned they wouldn’t have to go to jail.
Indeed, the past month’s blotter is a record of social breakdown that has been allowed to become utterly normal:
August 21: Two Hasidic men, ages 66 and 72, were sprayed with a fire extinguisher around 6 a.m. in separate incidents in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg. The second and older victim was punched in the nose. Both attacks were caught on camera, and did not appear to have any robbery motive.
August 22: Three teenagers stole a kippah from a 13-year-old boy in southern Staten Island in an almost poignantly brutish act of ethnoreligious bullying.
August 30: A crowd of teenagers surrounded a Hasidic man in Williamsburg; one of them punched him in the face as bystanders failed to intervene. Naturally, the entire confrontation was captured on a cellphone camera by someone who also did nothing to stop the attack.
September 1: A strangely calm-sounding man with a megaphone greeted the students of Queens College with antisemitic conspiracy theories, the most mild of which had to do with Israel using Holocaust reparations to destroy Germany. The man had apparently showed up on campus on multiple days that week, and had yelled similarly horrific things about Muslims, Christians, and Black people.
September 4: A 40-year-old Hasidic woman and her 20-year-old son came under fire from a BB gun wielded by someone traveling in a car near Wythe Avenue and South 10th Street in Williamsburg. The drive-by attacker said nothing during the incident, meaning the motive will remain a mystery as far the NYPD and prosecutors are concerned—assuming the shooter is ever charged or even caught.
September 7: A young man chased a member of the Crown Heights Chabad community down Eastern Parkway, yelling antisemitic invective and threatening to kill him.
September 8: A moped driver who slammed into a car driven by a Jewish man began attacking the motorist, who had left his vehicle to offer help. While this was not an antisemitic attack per se, it was nevertheless a possible example of how visible Jews are in greater danger than others during relatively innocuous incidents like this one.
September 12: Another likely BB gun-type attack on a Hasidic woman in Williamsburg—this time the pellet lodged in the woman’s sheitel, protecting her from injury.
September 13: A man in his mid-30s sucker-punched a 58-year-old Jew on the boardwalk in Far Rockaway.
September 15: In what has become a pattern across the city, almost the criminal version of a meme, a man on a bicycle slapped the hat off of an Orthodox Jewish passerby in Borough Park.
September 17: In a similar incident in the same neighborhood, a woman punched a shtreimel and kippah off of a man’s head in Borough Park.
September 19: Four 10th-graders were heading home from a Monday night event at their yeshiva in Flatbush when a man pulled over, rolled down the window of his car, whipped out a gun, and told them to “run home.” This explicit threat to shoot Orthodox children for having the nerve to show their faces in public after dark—or maybe at all—went practically unreported in most city media.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet Magazine.