Dov Hikind and I have known each other for decades. We have done interviews for print as well as broadcast. Over the years we have discussed the evolution of Borough Park — the community he represented in the New York State Assembly for three and a half decades — his defense of Israel, and everything in between.
All of a sudden he is in the spotlight, sought after by news media around the world in the aftermath of the attacks on Jews in Jersey City two weeks ago and last Saturday night in Monsey.
Many of us would have liked to consider these attacks as isolated incidents that occur few and far between. It has become apparent that this is just not the case. We were all jolted by the killings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh more than a year ago where 13 people lost their lives. Then there was Poway, California, where a woman lost her life on a Shabbos morning, and the rabbi, Yisroel Goldstein, was injured.
It seems that enough time passed between Pittsburgh and Poway so that we could have at least thought that this is not some kind of mushrooming movement with Jew hatred as its theme. After all, as you have seen and read on the news, these types of events do not always happen to Jews.
But after the Chanukah-night attack in a rabbi’s home in Monsey, there is something different. With attacks on Jews on the streets of Crown Heights, Borough Park, and Williamsburg sandwiched in between these more lethal assaults, there seems to be a pattern forming.
In Crown Heights, three women walking on Kingston Avenue were assaulted by a black woman. The perpetrator was arrested, released the same day, and then assaulted another person, a non-Jew, a few days later. We have all seen the surveillance camera videos of teenage thugs flipping the hats off the heads of Chassidic men and in some cases pushing them down on the ground and then striking or kicking them.
Dov Hikind is a political veteran; he’s worked within the system and he knows it well. Whether inside or outside of government, he has never pulled any punches and he always calls it as he sees it without any apologies. The other day on our podcast, he stated his case as clearly as one can. He said that he knows Mayor de Blasio and that the mayor’s efforts to react to these attacks have not been impactful. In fact, he added, the mayor’s policies have failed.
Dov says the same thing about Governor Cuomo. He adds that they’re both right there to condemn hate and the attacks that flow from that type of rhetoric, but their policies on how to deal with these matters are completely inept. Hikind believes we are staring at a situation where matters could get worse.
As of the first of the year, the policy of keeping alleged perpetrators in prison until they post bail is changing. Now, in most cases, suspects will be released the same day they are arrested so long as they promise to return to court for their designated hearing date. The De Blasio administration is even offering sports tickets and prepaid MetroCards for people who actually show up in court. That’s a long way from posting bail, and it’s a pity that this might become the new normal.
It is entirely possible that this is the catalyst for the increase in these types of attacks. Hikind says that those who knock off hats or swing a machete know that unless they actually murder someone in cold blood, the consequences are mild and often nonexistent. He points out the fashion in which our judicial system is being dumbed down in deference to the criminal element out there.
Then there is the matter of deep-seated cultural antisemitism, which is probably better known as Jew hatred.
I suggested to Hikind that these were disparate attacks, uncoordinated and loosely structured. True, these attacks are indeed antisemitic and hate crimes, but while one is disconnected from another, the reality is that one type of attack inspires the other.
There is little question that the attacks at the mini-market in Jersey City were noted by the Monsey miscreant Grafton Thomas. The perpetrators in Jersey were thankfully killed by police. That is perhaps why, among other things, Thomas searched online for Jewish communities that had heightened police presence. It looks like he may have been looking for a location where he could strike with impunity.
Dov and I both agree that a great deal of the blame for this deteriorating situation can be set down at the feet of many of our elected officials. Condemning hate crimes is, of course, vital and important. But what happens next in the process is more urgent than anything else.
In the aftermath of Monsey, there was silence from the offices of our New York senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. Only after being prodded by supporters did Ms. Gillibrand take the important step of convening a roundtable in Ramapo with elected officials and community leaders.
At the meeting on Monday, the junior senator called for increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and support for the Never Again Education Bill which provides funding for Holocaust education.
Friends and family of Mr. Thomas proclaimed that he is a non-violent person struggling with mental illness. On one hand, anyone who can do what he did last weekend has to be mentally ill. On the other hand, his Google searches on why Hitler hated Jews and where he could find shuls close to where he lives portrayed a vile Jew hater.
Hikind understands the role of government and the responsibility of elected officials to steward change and not feel that they have acted when they simply issue a statement of condemnation. For one thing, he said, these attacks have targeted frum communities for over a year and there have been no results on how to deal with it from the mayor or the governor’s office.
Hikind adds that the local Five Towns man, Isaac Levy, who was knocked to the ground at mid-morning in Manhattan and then kicked and pummeled by his attacker, asked the former assemblyman whether he thought this is what it was like in the early days of Nazi Germany.
On Sunday after Mr. Hikind appeared on Fox News, President Trump hailed and complimented him on Twitter as a respected Jewish leader. Another important point made on my podcast is that not enough high-profile officials have spoken out. Remaining silent at a time like this is unacceptable. More than anything else, it is important to note that not speaking is speaking out. It is this type of silence that is deafening.