Residents of Highland Park, a small New Jersey community with a sizable Jewish population, awoke this morning to find the front windows of five Jewish-owned businesses dotting the city’s mile-long main street broken and shattered. The Middlesex County town has had an eruv since 1978, designed to accommodate observant Jews during Shabbat, which now encircles the neighboring towns of Edison and New Brunswick.
At 1 a.m. Wednesday morning, Avi Reiss, owner of Trio Gifts, a Judaica shop on Raritan Avenue in Highland Park received a phone call from the police saying a window of his shop had been broken. Someone launched a piece of pavement through the store’s large front window, shattering it entirely, Reiss—who had been manning the store since that early-morning call—explained over the phone as the wind tore through the gaping hole.
Rabbi Ed Prince, the mashgaich responsible for overseeing the kosher cooking at Jerusalem Pizza, arrived at the Raritan Avenue pizzeria at 7:30 a.m to a broken window, and noticed several other damaged storefronts over a five-block commercial stretch. Also hit was kosher restaurant Park Place and Judaica Gallery. Jack’s Hardware, which is Jewish-owned, sustained a broken window. Other visibly Jewish establishments, such as a kosher Chinese restaurant, kosher butcher, and jewelry store, were not damaged.
The Wednesday morning attacks occurred only days after a brick was thrown through the window of the nearby Rutgers Hillel Saturday night, which Hillel executive director Andrew Getraer—who lives in Highland Park—said broke a computer and shattered glass across the office, and which is being investigated by the police. Further troubling for Getraer, who saw the Raritan Avenue damage on his way to work Wednesday, a Rutgers student active in the Jewish student community, who wears a yarmulke, was allegedly confronted in Highland Park’s kosher Dunkin’ Donuts Tuesday night by a man who identified himself as a neo-Nazi and referenced Kristallnacht—the night the Nazis destroyed Jewish-owned shops—while being thrown out by employees. The incident was reported to the police, as well as the university and the Anti-Defamation League.
The Highland Park Police Department issued a statement about the Raritan Avenue attacks, saying, “Detectives are actively investigating these incidents and are in contact with and coordinating efforts with other law enforcement agencies that may be able to expedite the investigation.”
The Police Department of Highland Park, a close-knit community with an active Jewish population, acknowledged the troubling nature of the damaged storefronts, if inconclusively: “We would also like to briefly address the fear that these are acts motivated by anti-Semitism or that these are bias crimes. The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office has been notified, but it is too soon to reach a conclusion.”
“We are appalled by the targeting of Jewish stores and Jewish campus institutions at Rutgers,” said an ADL regional leader. “These shocking crimes target the entire Jewish community as these locations appear to have been selected because of their Jewishness.
Highland Park, which Rabbi Prince called a “one-horse town,” has a population of just below 14,000 people, with nearly 10 synagogues, two Jewish day schools, a Yeshiva high school, and a girls’ school serving the town’s predominantly Orthodox Jewish residents, one of which is Highland Park mayor, Gary Minkoff. Trio Gifts was open for business Wednesday, as were the other businesses. “You can’t keep a good shop down,” Reiss explained. “The plan is to fix the window and move on.”
Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.