'We Are Genuinely Scared': New York Jews Say Hanukkah Attack Shows 'Words Have Consequences'

'I think there is much hatred on social media: It used to be people who post anonymously, now people don’t even hide their hateful rhetoric on social media – it has to be denounced,' says local Jewish community leader after five stabbed in attack

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Orthodox Jewish gather on a street in Monsey, N.Y., December 29, 2019, following a stabbing late Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration.
Orthodox Jewish gather on a street in Monsey, N.Y., December 29, 2019, following a stabbing late Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration.Credit: Allyse Pulliam,AP
Danielle Ziri
Danielle Ziri
New York

NEW YORK – The Jewish communities of New York are scared and confused after a man violently barged into the home of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration in the suburb of Monsey and stabbed five people, leaving one critically wounded, in an attack that follows a string of violent anti-Semitic events in the region.

"The community is genuinely scared and people are very confused. Many parents have asked whether they should send their children to school tomorrow," said Aron Wieder, a Rockland County legislator and himself an Orthodox Jew, in an interview with Haaretz. 

>> Read more: Five stabbed in New York attack on rabbi's home during Hanukkah celebration In the 2010s, anti-Semitism went mainstream | Opinion

"We don’t know what this particular incident was," Wieder said, adding that the perpetrator is currently being transported from New York City to Rockland County. "Regardless of what the answers are, people in their heads are connecting dots: They are connecting shootings, stabbings, New York City, Jersey City and Rockland County."

Wieder said he is collaborating with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of the community, with plans to add "more cameras, more security in public places, schools and synagogues." However, he noted that none of these measures can completely ensure safety. 

"We need to collectively get county leaders to denounce the hate and I don't think that has been done yet on the level where people should feel safe. I think there is much hatred on social media: It used to be people who post anonymously; now people don’t even hide their hateful rhetoric on social media – it has to be denounced." Wieder added. 

A week of anti-Semitic attacks in New York Credit: EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS

"People need to know that words have consequences. If you post horrible things about the Orthodox Jewish community, some crazy person might take it to the next level."

"Other than that, it's another day in Galuth," he said, referring to life in the Jewish Diaspora.

Aron Kohn, 65, told The New York Times that he was inside the house when the stabbings occurred.

“I was praying for my life,” said Kohn, 65. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said in a tweet Sunday night that the "anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific." He added, "We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery."

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin addressed the incident in a statement on Twitter. "Shocked and outraged by the terrible attack in New York and praying for the recovery of those injured. Antisemitism is not just a Jewish problem, and certainly not just the State of Israel's problem. We must work together to confront this rising evil, which is a real global threat"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel "categorically condemns the recent acts of anti-Semitism and the vicious attack" in New York at the start of the weekly government meeting, wishing the victims a speedy recovery.

"We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities to help them eradicate this phenomenon. We offer this help to every country," he said.

"This is an attempt to massacre Jews in cold blood in the heart of a warm and vibrant Jewish community." said Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency.

"Israel's holidays have turned from holidays of light to holidays of darkness and fear for Jews around the world in the past year, and the light of Hanukkah has become a holiday of bloodshed," he added.

"U.S. law enforcement agencies are making a huge effort to protect the Jewish community, but they must act in fierce defiance in the face of the massive and harsh rise of anti-Semitic revelations. But the Jews never end. A Jew wearing a Kippa cannot be safe on the streets of New York. It always starts with Jews but never ends with Jews," said Herzog on Twitter. 

New York Attorney General Letitia James wrote on Twitter, "I am deeply disturbed by the situation unfolding in Monsey, New York tonight. There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation. I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night."

"I am horrified by the stabbing of multiple people at a synagogue in Rockland County tonight – the latest in a string of attacks against members of the Jewish community in New York this week,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement following the attack. “On behalf of the family of New York, my heart goes out to the victims and I am praying for their full recovery.”

The governor added that he has directed the state police hate crimes task force to “immediately investigate and to use every tool available to hold the attacker accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

"Let me be clear: Anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate,” he said.  “In New York, we will always stand up and say with one voice to anyone who wishes to divide and spread fear: You do not represent New York and your actions will not go unpunished."

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote: "We are horrified by this latest attack in Monsey. ADL staff already on the scene, coordinating with law enforcement and supporting the victims of this crime. We will share updates as they become available.

"After the hateful assaults we saw this past week in Brooklyn and Manhattan, it is heart-wrenching to see the holiday of Hanukkah violated yet again. We are outraged because the answer is clear: the Jewish community NEEDS greater protection," he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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