A Worldwide Plague


Yehudit Moch of Park Slope walked into St. Vincent’s Hospital in Greenwich Village last week sporting a T-shirt embroidered with a large Star of David.

"You’d better close your jacket," said the receptionist, who was half-Jewish. "It’s not safe to be wearing that on the streets of New York."

Moch, 45, said she has not felt fear for herself the last few weeks but for her 12-year-old son, who attends a Brooklyn public school where there are a large number of Palestinian children. She said that as she recently passed two kaffiyeh-clad children, they made the sound of a machine gun and pointed at her, laughing.

"It was a very minor thing," said Moch, "but it really did shake me up. This happened in my neighborhood, which I think of as being very open to diversity."

Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, says the "tension between the Arab and Jewish communities is palpable."

Around the world, things are no better.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said his organization has compiled a list of 200 anti-Semitic incidents since the beginning of the month and that about 50 of them targeted synagogues.

"We haven’t seen such anti-Jewish violence since the war in Lebanon [in 1982]," he said. "And I don’t recall so many attacks on synagogues since the Holocaust. What’s frightening about it is that it’s in France, England, Canada, the United States, Eastern Europe. There’s a worldwide plague on Jewish institutions."

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, said that since violence erupted in Israel a month ago, there has been an abnormal number of anti-Semitic incidents. And he said a "disproportionate number of verified incidents involve Palestinians."

Howie Katz, regional director of the ADL, noted there have been 53 anti-Semitic incidents in New York City this month (a number he called "astounding") representing a 62 percent rise over a year ago.

Among the incidents was the attempted torching of Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale. Two Arab-American men from Yonkers were arrested and indicted for attempted arson and criminal mischief, both as hate crimes: the first to be charged under the state’s new hate crimes statute, which increases penalties for crimes motivated by race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, age or disability. A 15-year-old also was arrested and is to be tried as a juvenile.

The men are alleged to have hurled a bottle containing a flammable liquid through the glass door of the synagogue. The bottle failed to ignite.

The attempted arson was just one of the many attacks on synagogues in the last month. In upstate Syracuse, Rabbi Irvin Beigel of Temple Beth El said authorities were still trying to find the motive for the arson blaze that damaged his synagogue’s business office on the first night of Sukkot. He said the Oct. 13 fire, which occurred between 7 and 11 p.m. when the building was empty, was put out quickly and did not spread beyond the office.

Smoke damage sent worshipers to a joint Sukkot service at the local Young Israel, the rabbi said, and services will be held in another Jewish institution until the synagogue is ready.

"Some people are edgy," said Rabbi Beigel, who formerly served as a rabbi on Long Island. "For some it is emotionally very difficult, especially for survivors. I’m trying to reach all of our people to let them know that help is available. … The state police are providing protection for all Jewish institutions. We’re in a situation none of us would have dreamed of."

State Sen. Seymour Lachman of Brooklyn said that because of a series of anti-Semitic incidents in Brooklyn, he has asked the police to increase patrols around the Yeshiva of Brooklyn. He said vandals scrawled anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls, desks and floors of the school on Oct. 19. Vandals broke in again during the early morning hours of Oct. 22, splashing wine and soda on the floor. The same day and a half-mile from the yeshiva, a man was arrested after he threatened a person with a bat and said, "Kill the Jews now."

Miller of the JCRC said that under the auspices of the Mayor’s Office and the New York Police Department, Jewish and Arab leaders have met to "ensure that the violence of the Middle East doesn’t make its way to the streets of New York."

At the same time, he said that in an unusual move, the JCRC issued two security alerts in the last three weeks to Jewish institutions in the New York area.

Internationally, France is among the countries that have seen a sharp rise in attacks on Jewish institutions, with firebombs hurled at six synagogues. One synagogue in Trappes, west of Paris, was virtually gutted.

Rabbi Tom Cohen of Kehilat Gesher, the French Anglophone Jewish Congregation of Paris, said there have been 80 to 90 anti-Semitic incidents reported in the last two weeks.

"We are closer to the Middle East, and Muslims make up 10 percent of the population; Jews make up less than 1 percent," he said in explaining the numerous incidents. "I find also that the media here creates an atmosphere that leads to [such attacks]. It presents a very pro-Palestinian viewpoint."

Rabbi Cohen, whose congregation consists largely of French speakers who are married to English speakers, grew up in Oregon. He said the Americans in his congregation are frightened by the outbreak of anti-Semitic incidents and that the French Jews are "watchful and taking extra precautions. Most communities now have police [in attendance] at all services.

"I had former congregants who now live in Israel call to say they were worried about us. They said they didn’t have to worry in Israel because they had the Israeli army protecting them. And I’ve had a couple of French families who were planning to make aliyah say they want to go now to show their support of Israel."