A string of violent incidents in an Orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn has left some Jewish locals on edge, but communal officials say there’s no apparent connection among the attacks.
At least three members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic community have been attacked in or around Crown Heights, Brooklyn, since mid-April. Police have charged a man with a hate crime in one of the attacks, and brought robbery charges in another.
“I’ve heard about a lot of fear, people have told me they’re scared to walk at night,” said Yaacov Behrman, an Orthodox activist and a member of the local community board.
Yet while communal officials advise caution, David Pollock, director of public policy and security at the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, said that the incidents don’t appear connected, and are likely part of regular seasonal fluctuations in street crime that happen every year in the city.
“Any incident is horrible,” Pollock said. “But as far as the police have been able to determine, these are crimes that are correlated with it getting nice out and additional people being on the street.”
Two of the incidents took place in the middle of the night, and one has been charged as a robbery. Another took place outside of the boundaries of Crown Heights. Still, elected officials have reacted strongly to the incidents. New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted a request for tips, while Brooklyn’s Borough president Eric Adams attended a rally against the attacks.
“The elected officials are very quick to respond and condemn and stand with us in solidarity from all sides,” said Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. “It’s not anything like going back to be where we were in the past. But on the other hand, you have to be concerned and look around and see what we can do to address this.”
On Twitter, however, some Crown Heights activists have characterized the incidents as a wave of bias attacks, and claimed that they are being ignored. “The sad truth is that no one really cares about Jews being assaulted on the streets of central Brookyn, less so if they look like me,” wrote Mordechai Lightstone, a vocal Crown Heights Twitter user.
In first reported incident, on April 14, a group of people attacked a 42-year-old man at 3:30 A.M. on Eastern Parkway, a major thoroughfare in Crown Heights. The victim fled to the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect at 770 Eastern Parkway, where he was treated by the volunteer Jewish ambulance service, according to the website CrownHeights.info.
No one has been arrested in connection with the attack.
The second incident, on April 21, took place outside of Crown Heights, in the nearby neighborhood of East Flatbush, in the middle of the day. According to press reports, an African-American man allegedly assaulted a Jewish man, Menachem Moskowitz, after Moskowitz greeted him. In video of the incident, a man can be seen throttling the victim. Moskowitz told the New York Daily News that the man said to him: “You f—-ing Jews! You stole my money! I gotta kill you!”
A Bronx man, James Vincent, has been arrested in connection with the incident and charged with a hate crime, according to police. The Forward was unable to reach an attorney representing him in this case by press time.
The most recent reported incident took place in the middle of the night on May 1, again on Eastern Parkway. According to police, the victim was carrying a charity box when two men approached him and punched him in the face. Police arrested two suspects in connection with the incident, charging them with robbery.
The New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, Evan Bernstein, praised the police department’s work in the incidents. “The NYPD has done a tremendous amount of work and is being incredibly diligent,” he said. The ADL’s New York region has offered a reward for information about the incidents.
Pollock also praised the NYPD’s response. “The fact that there were arrests in two out of three of these incidents clearly show the dedication of the NYPD to deterring any additional incidents,” he said. “The best deterrent to these kinds of crimes is to get the word out on the street that if you attack a resident the NYPD will identify you, arrest you and you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
In Crown Heights, members of the community are keeping a watchful eye.
“Nobody thinks we’re going back to the bad old days of the 60s and 70s, but on the other hand we have to keep our eyes open,” the JCC’s Cohen said.
Update: This story has been updated with additional quotes.
Crown Heights Attacks Spread Fear
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.