As the Ramapo, New York community tries to heal after a machete attack at a rabbi’s home during a Hanukkah celebration, residents and lawmakers in Rockland County strive to find a path forward. WAMC’s Hudson Valley Bureau Chief Allison Dunne reports that path includes smoothing relations between the Orthodox Jewish community and other groups and lawmakers.
When U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand convened a roundtable December 30 to speak out against anti-Semitism following the stabbings, a number of religious and community leaders were at the table. New Square Mayor Israel Spitzer said the attack on the Jewish community had been in the making for several years, arguing that numerous leaders had been trying to spur dialogue to prevent such violence. Spring Valley Deputy Mayor Asher Grossman says elected officials have ignored the propaganda created from within the county, on social media and in local political campaigns. He told Gillibrand it’s time to stop the divisive speech and rhetoric and bring communities together.
Abe Glassman is the head of an organization that represents 1,300 kids in the community’s private schools. Glassman, who participated in the roundtable, says underlying politics fueled the attack. And he believes elected officials should condemn these types of verbal attacks as well as violent ones.
“When you have a stabbing or you have a shooting, obviously, everybody in their right mind is going to come out and condemn that. But when you have people running on platforms ‘we will stop those people,’ and when you say ‘those people,’ everybody understands it means those Jewish people, even if it’s not specifically said. We will not them take over our community. Who is ‘them’ taking over our community,” Glassman says. “Obviously, we understand this means, I wouldn’t say outright Semitism, but it definitely, there are people who take it as rise of anti-Jewish votes, and we do definitely believe that it is the elected officials that have to condemn these attacks.”
“The key is direct engagement,” says Day.
On New Year’s Eve, Republican Rockland County Executive Ed Day visited the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, where the December 28 attack occurred, along with other local leaders.
“The one thing I said to them is very simple, look, we have differences and it’s okay to disagree on matters of policy, but we need to keep the conservation at a level where it’s respectful. And that starts by people learning about each other. And I was very clear that we here in Rockland County, Human Rights Commission has done a number forums and, most notably, the ultra-Orthodox and Hasidic community is absent, and I said that has to change. I said, we’re willing to take steps forward to encourage understanding, but we need everybody at the table, that it’s disheartening when we see people of all different colors, all different religions, save one, coming to these events,” Day says. “So that was heard, and I’m very hopeful that our next event, which I believe will be in March, will be better attended. And once we get to know each other better, there’s always a better chance that we’ll be able to understand each other better. And that really is the key. Ignorance breeds hatred.”
And hatred, he says, brings on attacks such as the Monsey stabbings. Orange County resident Grafton Thomas has been charged with federal hate crimes in the attack. Authorities say he had handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic references and had used his phone to look up information on Hitler and the location of synagogues. Thomas’ attorney, Michael Sussman, requested that Thomas, who he maintains has a history of mental illness, undergo a mental health evaluation. Sussman had released a statement on behalf of Thomas’ family saying Thomas has no known history of anti-Semitism.
Since the Monsey attack, there has been vandalism in Westchester County at two churches and a theatre. Plus a menorah was knocked down at Veteran’s Commemorative Park, all in the Town of Yorktown.