A “real awakening.” That’s how the residents of Riverdale described the events of the last few weeks, as their quiet Bronx neighborhood turned into a hotbed of police activity and communal angst. Fortunately, the plot hatched by a bunch of would-be terrorists targeting two synagogues and United States military aircraft was doomed from the start, with phony explosives supplied by an informant. What always lingers at times like these is the heightened sense of discomfort, even fear, at the sudden knowledge that yes, even in America, even today, there still are crazies out there who wish to target Jews. That’s the awakening.
It is difficult to know how to react rationally. Those who are personally and professionally committed to fighting antisemitism will now place Riverdale, May 2009 on the list of incidents legitimizing their cause. And with good reason. Even if the plotters turn out to be as incompetent as first appears, they could have done real, lasting harm to lives, property, and the “domestic Tranquility” we as a nation have strived to ensure ever since those words graced the opening of the Constitution.
The challenge is to keep perspective. As a Holocaust survivor told our Rebecca Dube, in contrast to her experience in Germany, here “everyone [is] looking out for us.” Far from being sanctioned by the authorities, plots such as these are foiled by them.
And far from being supported by the community, these incidents serve to strengthen the bonds among Jews, and with our non-Jewish neighbors. The power of holding an inter-faith event less than two days after the plot was uncovered cannot be dismissed as mere performance. It underscores the essential American pull away from violence and toward accommodation and tolerance.
The Riverdale incident followed by just weeks the tragic death of a Jewish college student whose alleged assailant expressed a desire to also attack Jews on campus. While it’s unclear how genuine the threat really was, terror doesn’t need outcome to be effective. Jews who never felt targeted in their lives suddenly were. And just as importantly, Jews who never had reason to feel supported by the greater community felt that support. That’s a real awakening, too.