Last Wednesday, I received a phone call from Israel Bitton, executive director of Americans Against Antisemitism. “We want to go to Jersey City,” he told me, “and walk the streets to find out why people in this community hate Jews and if they want to hurt us.”
“What time do you want to go?” I asked.
“Right now,” Bitton replied.
The day before, two Jews – Mindy Ferencz, 31 (a mother of three), and Moshe Deutsch, 24 – had been killed in Jersey City Kosher Supermarket at the hands of two murderous gunmen. Also killed in the store was Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, a store employee. Two other Jewish customers managed to narrowly escape while bullets were flying.
According to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the perpetrators hated Jews and law enforcement. Unfortunately, other Jersey City residents apparently share their hatred. In a video shot by Americans Against Antisemitism, a woman says:
“We never had a shooting like this until they came! If this had been the other way around, they’d be killing us. And everybody who’s standing right here knows that. … Look how black people act. We can’t do it to them? … They all the problem because if [the Jews] ain’t come to Jersey City, this [expletive deleted] would never go on.”
Next on the video, someone off camera is heard saying: “It was your kind that did it here, right? … And four of y’all are dead, right? … That’s great. If they was dead, they got shot dead, that’s great.”
A third voice is then heard saying, “Get the Jews out of Jersey City.”
Everyone I spoke to in Jersey City, however, when I arrived along with Bitton and two others, expressed disapproval of the shootings. We heard some anti-Jewish comments, but no hatred. For example, one person said, “We don’t mind them being here, but they are buying up lots of houses and pushing black families out of the neighborhood…. They can be slumlords.”
Another said, “Jews are moving in and they treat [blacks] like we don’t exist.”
Two ladies we spoke with expressed shock when they heard the shooters were black. “They were black?” they asked. “We thought this was a fight between Jews.”
We asked several people whether they thought violence against Jews was justified. None said yes.
One Muslim business owner said to us, “I am a little bit uneasy about you [Jews] coming here, but what happened here is still a tragedy because it’s a loss of a human life.”
Once the police tape on the street of the shooting was removed, we walked toward the Jersey City Kosher Market past numerous bullet holes. When we reached the store, we paused. A man walked up to us and said, “You’re Jews? I just want to apologize for what happened here today. This is not what our community is about.”
“You have no reason to apologize; you did nothing wrong,” said Benny. The man insisted we accept his apology and then went on his way.