Photo Credit: Wikicommons

Seven years ago, my wife and I moved to Inwood in New York’s Long Island. We had spent four years living in Flatbush, Brooklyn on East 14th Street between avenues H & I, but got out early for good behavior. (It is by the way remarkable how nostalgic Jews get about Brooklyn when they no longer actually have to live there.)

For a country like the United States that is officially only 246 years old, Inwood has a surprisingly long history.


According to early European settlers it was first settled in the 1600s. According to the indigenous 13 Algonquin tribes including the Secatogues, Unkechaugs and Shinnecocks who had been here forever, the early European settlers were talking through their ridiculously silly looking Pilgrim hats.

These first Europeans were fishermen as Inwood sits on Jamaica Bay. It offered abundant catches and a reliable income. Today Inwood looks north two miles or so to where the sprawling and polluting John F. Kennedy Airport is located, so you might want to think twice about eating any fish caught in those waters today.

It is a small place, not big enough to be called a town and is actually a “Hamlet” with a total area of just 2.1 square miles.

By the First World War, most of Inwood’s population were of Italian or Albanian extraction. Later, Jews moved in too. They were generally the kind of Jews who strove as hard as possible to melt as quickly and as completely as melting would allow, into American life. They lived happily alongside the Italians and Albanians keen to do the same thing.

Eventually, most of these Jews left to more affluent neighborhoods leaving behind only a few of their children and grandchildren who married Italians and completed the inescapable conclusion of America’s Melting Pot experience.

All of that changed about twelve years ago. Six young frum families decided to move to Inwood and see if the cheaper housing (at least compared to the other four settlements that make up the so-called, “Five Towns” to which it belongs) could prove attractive to other young frum families. It could, and today there are now over two hundred frum families living here with more arriving the moment one of the older Italian American families decides they want to accept the financial bonanza these Jewish house buyers are willing to offer. They leave having earned more money for their houses than they could have dreamt of before the new Jews began moving in.

And if all of that seems a bit of a fairytale convergence of happy endings for all involved, that would be a misreading of the story. There are after all, no such things as fairies and in my experience no fairytale endings either.

The problem is that these new Jews, these frum Jews are different in every way to the ones that came before. These Jews look Jewish; in fact too Jewish and for many, that is a problem.

In January of this year, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece whose headline read, The Growing Risk for Jews Who Show Their Jewishness.

In it the writer began by citing a depressing list of recent violent attacks on American Jews; Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City and Fort Worth claiming that they have become a regular occurrence, like natural disasters. He continued, “We are tempted to conclude that we are simply never safe, not even in a country as good for Jews as the U.S. has been.”

Then the writer explained that that nature of these attacks on Jews is not as clear cut as you might imagine. “The recent heightened antipathy toward Jews hasn’t been focused on the general Jewish population. Rather, it has targeted the shrinking minority of Jews who regularly do Jewish things in Jewish spaces – go to synagogue, for example, or shop at kosher markets. For Jews who “Jew it,” to use a friend’s favorite locution.”

He then goes on to claim that for Jews who don’t “Jew it” America is “Less oppressive than ever.”

He obviously hasn’t been keeping up with the plight of Jewish students across America’s college campuses then.

Another part of the story he seems unaware of, despite as he explains, having been writing about religion for 15 years, is the Orthodox community. This demographic is anything but a “shrinking minority of Jews who regularly do Jewish things.”

If he had kept up with the statistics, he would know that it is an exponentially expanding proportion of Jews and they are always doing Jewish things in Jewish spaces. That is why these Jews, the identifiably Jewish Jews who “Jew it,” is where you should look to see what’s really going on with U.S. antisemitism.

Perhaps that blind spot of his also explains why he didn’t cite any of the numerous recent attacks on Orthodox Jews across Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

Which brings me back to Inwood.

A friend of mine is a doctor in a Manhattan medical facility that offers health checkups for clients. One of his colleagues was examining a young woman who explained that she has recently moved to the city from Inwood. “The Hassidic Jews are moving in and taking over.” She explained, adding that, “Well at least they are getting beaten up now in Brooklyn, so that’s one good thing!”

The doctor and his two nurses, none of whom are Jews, were appalled and challenged her hatred asking if she was a Christian and did she know what religion Jesus was?

I recently discovered that Inwood’s non-Jewish community has its own Facebook page where the tolerance they can muster for Jews that don’t look, act or do Jewish things, evaporates when they are confronted by Jews who do.

Of course, not all of Inwood’s non-Jewish residents are antisemitic, but as more than one of my non-Jewish neighbors confided to me recently, “I simply don’t understand why there is so much hatred here. The Jews aren’t harming anyone.”

Of course, they’re not… it’s just that they look Jewish.


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Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein is a popular international lecturer. He was a regular Broadcaster on BBC Radio and TV but resigned in 2022 over what he saw as its institutional anti-Semitism. He is the author of twelve books including most recently, "Truly Great Jewish Women Then and Now."
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