The longtime activist, whose org. released the devastating report about conviction rates for anti-Jewish attacks, is turning up the pressure
Known for being a fearless and outspoken activist for Jewish rights, former New York State Assemblyman of Brooklyn’s 48th District, Dov Hikind, credits his mother, an Auschwitz survivor, for inspiring him. (His father had also survived forced labor camps.)
“In the beginning, my mother and father never spoke about this, but we knew, we understood,” Hikind told The Jewish Press. “My mother had the number on her left arm from Auschwitz. Later on, my mother began to talk about it. And she never stopped.” Hikind remembers being about 10-years-old when his mother, Freida, began to reveal her memories. She told him about her 3-year-old nephew, who looked up at his mother and asked her, “Are they going to kill us?” while they were standing on line before being sent to the gas chambers with Freida’s mother. Freida’s 19-year-old sister said to the remaining family members waiting on line, “We can’t let mother go alone,” and sacrificed her life to die with her.
Hikind’s mother was one of the only surviving members of her large family. He remembers her telling him how, at the very end of the war, as the allies were approaching, Nazi soldiers ordered a forced march, where everyone was convinced they were about to be shot. They closed their eyes and said Shema as the Nazis faced them. When they opened their eyes, they were shocked to see the Nazis had disappeared; they ran away before they were caught.
Freida lived until the age of 95, and throughout her life “Why?” was the question she never stopped asking. Hikind has hosted a radio show, The Dov Hikind Show, for the past 15 years, and an interview with his mother was the most requested episode. On the show, she asked, “Why did they do this to us? What did we do to anyone that we deserved the hate, the destruction, the murder, of my sisters, brothers, parents?”
Hikind commented, “She couldn’t understand what happened; how could you? The things my mother saw with her eyes are beyond comprehension…having faith in Hashem, she never lost, but she definitely asked the question of ‘why?’”
Hikind, age 72, currently lives in Long Island with his wife, Shoshana. They have three children, two of whom are social workers. While growing up in Williamsburg, he attended two chassidic yeshivas because his father was a Vizhnitzer chassid. Hikind, who is Orthodox, said, “My story is sort of the story of Chaim Potok [author] of The Chosen. My mother wanted me to get more of a secular education…. I ended up going to Yeshiva Torah Vodaath…a very religious school, but they had a great English department. My mother had to fight with my father to send me to this yeshiva.” Hikind received his B.A. and M.A. in political science from Queens College and Brooklyn College, respectively. He was working towards obtaining his PhD in political science at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan when he was elected, curtailing his academic pursuits. A conservative Democrat, Hikind served as a New York State Assemblyman from 1983 to 2018.
In 2019, he founded Americans Against Antisemitism (AAA), a nonpartisan organization dedicated to fighting the dangerous increase in antisemitism from both sides of the political spectrum and supporting victims of hate crimes. The organization’s other focus is education. Their soon-to-be- released interactive book, A Brief History of Antisemitism, has been endorsed by Israeli President Isaac Herzog and is geared toward educating Jewish students from a Jewish perspective who don’t have extensive knowledge about their history.
In July 2022, AAA published a report, “The Prosecution – or Lack Thereof – of Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes in NYC,” which showed that the majority of all hate crimes in New York City, almost 60 percent, are against Jews, who comprise about 13 percent of the city’s population. From 2017-2021, 70 percent of police precincts reported that Jews were attacked, twice as much as the next targeted group.
New York City reported a 76 percent increase in hate crimes during the first three months of 2022 compared to the year before. Considering the AAA report, it should come as no surprise that attacks on Jews more than tripled, accounting for much of the spike.
Israel Bitton, executive director of AAA and one of the co-authors of the report, told Tablet, the online Jewish magazine, that the purpose of the study was “to answer a simple question: Are there consequences for anti-Jewish hate crimes. In the majority of trackable cases, prosecution has been effectively nonexistent.”
“What has happened over the last four years is unprecedented,” Hikind told The Jewish Press, “the numbers of hate crimes directed against the Jewish people just continue to grow.”
He noted that many incidents are not reported because oftentimes people who’ve been victimized are too afraid. “I know so many cases of people who have not gone to the authorities, even though I beg and plead for people to do that.”
Sadly, there are rarely punitive consequences for the perpetrators of antisemitic hate crimes. Charges get dropped or reduced and plea bargains are made. According to AAA’s report, between January 2018 and July 2022, only one person out of 118 who were arrested for committing anti-Jewish hate crimes has actually been convicted of a hate crime and sentenced to significant jail time.
As the article, written by Armin Rosen and published August 28, reported, “Some unknowable number of the 118 anti-Jewish hate crime suspects whose cases showed up in the state’s WebCrims database since 2018 were sent to state psychiatric institutions for an unknown period of time, instead of being criminally charged, Bitton explained. Fifteen took plea deals, although the study found no evidence that any of these agreements involved jail time. In 23 cases, the charges were dropped. The only conviction was for a relatively high-profile incident, in which the suspect choked and beat a visibly Jewish man in his mid-50s while he walked home from Shabbat day services in Crown Heights.”
“Perpetrators don’t have to be concerned to commit crimes, to attack Jews, because based on what we have looked at, there are no repercussions,” Hikind stated. He believes the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) should be tracking the consequences of these crimes in their reports. “If they were to do that, it would send a message to D.A.s,” he explained.
A case that Hikind has tried to draw attention to for the last four years is that of Leopold Schwartz, a chassidic man who was mercilessly beaten by a cab driver while he was standing at an intersection in Borough Park. When another chassidic man rushed over to save him, the cab driver chased him, giving Schwartz enough time to get away. Eyewitnesses reportedly heard the cab driver shouting “I hate Jews!” The attack took place in 2018 and it just recently went to trial.
Hikind has spoken with the media on Schwartz’s behalf, visited his family at home and watched the case unfold with them at the Brooklyn Supreme Court, where the jury did not find the perpetrator guilty of a hate crime. “If he would have been found guilty of a hate crime, which is exactly what it was, he’d be in jail right now. Instead, he’s walking the streets,” Hikind explained. Hikind described the family as “very, very distraught.”
On July 26, Fima Zlatsin, a modern Orthodox professional who was wearing a yarmulke, was brutally punched on the E train, leaving him covered in blood and requiring stitches. His attacker called him a Jew and threatened, “If I had a gun I would shoot you.” Zlatsin’s family contacted Hikind, and he visited him at the hospital and at his family’s home, and brought public attention to the case. Hikind described Zlatsin as experiencing many weeks of terrible pain.
“He was still going through the trauma of what had happened to him,” Hikind said, “I remember him saying to me that he will never take the train again.” No suspects have been arrested.
The predominant number of hate crimes committed against Jews in New York City are perpetrated by other minorities, and not white supremacists, which is a common misconception.
Hikind mentioned that although the ADL tracks statistics of antisemitic crimes, “they never talk about who’s committing the hate crimes.” He asked, “How do you deal with a problem if you don’t know what that problem is?”
Hikind brings attention to the fact that antisemitic hate crimes are more prevalent in New York than people think. “The impression sometimes is that, oh, it’s just Crown Heights or Williamsburg, or Borough Park. But the statistics actually show that things have happened in almost all the precincts in New York.”
Hikind revealed that more Jewish people than ever before have been voicing their fears and concerns about the future to him. He said there is “a real exodus of people from the city of New York.” People are moving to Long Island and New Jersey; some are wondering if they should prepare to make aliyah.
He’s been asked if this is just a phase or if antisemitism will get worse. “The answer to that question – I don’t have and no one does,” Hikind explained, “My philosophy has always been, you’ve got to do your part. The rest is in the hands of G-d. But you can’t just sit back and say G-d will take care of it; it doesn’t work that way…. Do your part and G-d will help.”