A rash of antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn has sent shivers through communities at the borough’s heavily Jewish southern end, prompting a local congressman to convene a town hall meeting this week where Democratic Senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton were to appear, along with assorted state and local officials.
Antisemitic incidents striking south Brooklyn in the month of January alone include a swastika carved into the door of a yeshiva in the Midwood section; a Jewish home in the Flatlands section vandalized with swastikas and hate messages; the failed attempt, allegedly by a Bosnian Muslim immigrant, to torch a synagogue on Ocean Avenue, and swastikas spray-painted on 26 cars in affluent Marine Park.
Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, whose district includes Sheepshead Bay, organized the town hall meeting, which was scheduled to take place Thursday at the Kings Bay YM-YWHA. Representatives of the New York Police Department hate-crimes unit were slated to discuss their strategy for dealing with the spate of incidents, as well as to give anxious residents an opportunity to “vent,” Weiner told the Forward.
“There’s the impression that there have been a lot of these incidents,” Weiner said in a telephone interview. “The cumulative effect is to have people very on edge.”
Adding to the community’s sense of unease, residents said, was the arrest last week of a Jewish man in connection with the recent burglaries of nine Brooklyn synagogues. Mark Cukierwar, 31, is accused of stealing money from the synagogues’ charity boxes to feed a drug habit. He allegedly disguised himself as a chasidic Jew to ease his access to the synagogues, according to press reports.
The most recent antisemitic incident occurred last weekend at the Flatlands home of Harvey Kudisch and his teenage son Shane. The two returned from a weekend away and found their home defaced with antisemitic messages — including “hate Jews” and “kill Jews” — as well as a swastika that was burned into the ceiling.
In addition, the perpetrators stole two television sets, a computer and a number of DVDs, as well as a Barbie doll collection belonging to Harvey’s late wife, who passed away last summer. And right below the swastika on the ceiling, another of her collectibles, a blue Star of David candle, had been stabbed with a large kitchen knife.
“We live not five minutes from where all those cars were spray-painted with swastikas,” said Kudisch, who added that he didn’t have the heart to tell his aging father, a Holocaust survivor, about the incident. “I don’t understand what kind of people would do this.”
Another incident that attracted considerable attention was the January 10 attempted arson at the Young Israel of Kings Bay Synagogue on Ocean Avenue. According to news reports, tragedy was averted when a Pakistani-born Muslim gas station attendant, Syed Moshin Ali, called the police after he noticed a man who had just bought gas from him walk across the street and pour it on the foundation of the synagogue. The accused attacker, Sead Jokur, faces charges of arson in the third degree, criminal mischief in the third degree and aggravated harassment.
The Brooklyn borough president, Marty Markowitz, said he was calling on New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly to organize a special task force to look into the incidents. Pointing to the discovery of 26 parked cars defaced with swastikas last week, Markowitz said that “once the perpetrators are caught, I believe that they should be made to attend a Holocaust education class and meet with Holocaust survivors so they can fully understand the profound impact of their actions on the community.”
“I must also stress,” Markowitz said, “that this despicable incident in no way reflects how Brooklynites feel about each other. One of our greatest strength is our religious and ethnic diversity — it is something we treasure.”
Weiner said there had been too many incidents for communal and law enforcement officials to ignore.
“There’s a fine line that you have to walk between not giving these vandals credit, and not taking it seriously enough,” Weiner said.