The Anti-Defamation League released data to suggest that anti-Semitic crime in New York State in 2019 led the nation with an increase of 26%. There were a total of 430 documented attacks in the state that year. It culminated on Chanukah when a terrorist stormed a Chanukah party at the home of a prominent Monsey rabbi, swinging a machete. One man died as a result of that encounter; many others were wounded or traumatized.
If anything positive came from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 it could to be that it slowed down this disturbing trend. Now, in 2021, as Covid restrictions are softening, the question remains if New York will return to the gruesome realties of 2019.
The Jewish Press interviewed several candidates running for City Council in District 33, which includes Williamsburg, and District 35, which includes Crown Heights. These two iconic chasidic communities carried the brunt of the incidents in the city, so we asked the candidates their plan to prevent another wave. As of the time of our inquiry, none of the candidates had made any pledges to the Jewish community or made fighting anti-Semitism a priority on their platforms. However, all expressed their intention to aggressively fight anti-Semitism during our interview. Below are some of the most thought-provoking answers.
We’ve highlighted the best answers from each of the areas.
For Crown Heights in District 35 The Jewish Press interviewed Curtis Harris, Crystal Hudson and Regina Kinsey. (In both districts, The Jewish Press reached out to all candidates. Only the ones just listed got back to us.)
“I live in Crown Heights. I love everything about my community I love the diversity, I love the culture, the mixture of people. I think we tend to get along. I know it’s been times when things have gotten out of control with youngsters attacking our Jewish brothers and sisters. I’m against all kinds of hate.”
Kinsey said as a Black woman she understands what hate and discrimination does. “When things like that arise we should all be concerned. We will work closely with our precinct to try to get on top of [anti-Semitic crimes].”
She said the problem often starts in the home. “A lot of times for these youngsters, it’s what they see and hear in the home. If teens are attacking people, today it’s our Jewish brothers and sisters and tomorrow it could be the rest of us. Now, with crime escalating and out of control, no one is off limits. You have to stop it [completely]. And I think more adults should be involved with their youth and talking about discrimination. I also think we need literature in classroom in the curriculum.”
Kinsey said penalties should be tougher for hate crimes, and, New York needs tougher penalties (across the board) for criminality. “I remember the Jewish community had to practically plead with the mayor and the governor to really do something, because every other day there was something. More police presence, even state police. I’ve always thought that we should probably have homeland security in a city of this size, as well to catch some things before they escalate or even happen.”
At the end of the interview, Kinsey said, “I really do love this (Jewish) community. And this is something a lot of people don’t know. I carry a card of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in my pocketbook.”
For Williamsburg in District 33 The Jewish Press interviewed April Somboun, Elizabeth Adams, Victoria Cambranes, Lincoln Restler, as well as neighboring candidate Terell Finner from District 34.
“I live in Greenpoint. I am a proud Jewish person. I grew up in Brooklyn Heights Synagogue where I had my bar mitzvah. My grandfather was a leader in the Jewish community in Montreal.”
Restler said the extraordinary rise in anti-Semitism and the violent attacks that we have seen in the last few years he finds profoundly disturbing. “Over the past 60 years the Jewish community in Williamsburg has developed strong working relationships with the Latino community on its southside. I want to help the community develop similar strong relationships with the [predominately Black] community in Bedford Stuyvesant, where the Jewish community has been expanding further and further into, and now call it “New Williamsburg.”
He also said there should be Jewish community leaders speaking in the local public schools and in the tenant associations engaging with the Bed-Stuy community to educate them about the Jewish traditions and practices. “I am proud to be working with Rabbi Moishe Indig (Satmar Aroinim faction) and Rabbi David Niederman (Satmar Zaloinim faction), who I consider a personal mentor, and I have a great relationship with the various other chasidic groups from Pupa to Vien.”
Restler doesn’t think the city has done enough to address anti-Semitic violence. “I want to see greater support for Shomrim and other resources to put eyes on the street to deter crime and attacks. The Orthodox Jewish community is often unfairly stigmatized and stereotyped, and statements made (concerning Covid) by the governor and mayor – if they had been made about Blacks or Latinos, they would have been considered racist. But somehow they are acceptable when talking about the Orthodox. I feel it is critically important for Black and Latino leaders to show and say [anti-Semitism] is wrong and we will not tolerate it and we will work with the Jewish community to stamp it out once and for all.”
Highlights from the other candidates:
Curtis Harris District 35: “I’m still concerned about anti-Semitism. I am totally upset with what’s happening right now. It reminds me of a time when we are not safe, because an attack on a Jew is an attack on all of humanity.”
Victoria Cambranes, District 33: “I was born and raised in Greenpoint. I’ve lived as a neighbor to the Jewish community all my life. We don’t want to have to provide thoughts and prayers after something like what happened in Monsey or Jersey City; we want to be proactive. There is an awareness issue and a wider sort of disrespect for different people. In New York City we are constantly rubbing elbows, and the big thing that is a friction point is housing. It’s something every community wants. No one wants to be displaced. These are big questions that are not going to be resolved until we take a good look at how we are funding housing.”
Elizabeth Adams, District 33: “I live in Greenpoint. We need a bystander intervention program to a greater degree and the funding for it. So when people witness a hate crime they have the tools and support to stop it and really intercede at that moment. We have people being attacked while they walk home. We need a safe streets program.”
April Somboun, District 33: “I remember clearly [2019 attacks] and my thoughts on the hate and violence that’s happening to the Jewish community, especially those in Williamsburg. I won’t stand for it. It’s not just checking in on you when something violent or gross happens; it’s constantly checking in on you. I have a meeting with Rabbi Niederman next month and I’m so appreciative of it because the community has a vital voice and they should be at the table.”
Terrell Finner (neighbors Williamsburg community in District 34): “I can honestly say I have a lot to learn about the Jewish community and I am eager to learn. I think that prosecution of anyone who commits an anti-Semitic crime should be a priority of the police department and the DA’s office. I think that we as city councilpersons have the power to write into law protections for the Jewish community, and enforce repercussions for people who do anti-Semitic crimes. And we need to make sure the people who are responsible for our public safety are on the watch, and we need to be very clear there is no gray area when it comes to hate crime.”
Primaries for New York City Council will be held on June 22.