Two distinct reactions to synagogue attacks in Riverdale were on display Thursday.
Speakers from outside the area held a news conference in the Bronx neighborhood, lambasting government officials. Meanwhile, a local Jewish coalition praised the authorities and rejected agitation by “outside organizations.”
The sparsely attended press conference on the steps of the Riverdale Jewish Center on Thursday afternoon was prompted by a spate of unsolved rock-throwing attacks on several Riverdale synagogues in the past week.
Dov Hikind, the former State Assemblyman who is founder of Americans Against Anti-Semitism, sponsored the presser, which included remarks by U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Long Island) and Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels.
All three men spoke passionately about the dangerous rise in anti-Semitism and the need to confront such attacks more aggressively. Each lambasted major government officials as highly ineffective.
Sliwa, who is running for mayor this year, focused blame on Mayor Bill de Blasio and pledged that his Guardian Angels will help protect local synagogues. Police presence has been strong since the attacks.
Zeldin, a candidate for governor in 2022, zeroed in on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and called for the repeal of New York State’s cashless bail law, which he said puts criminals back on the street too quickly.
Hikind, too, criticized the cashless bail policy and cited anti-police sentiment as another key factor for the current spike in crime.
Windows were smashed at RJC last weekend — and again on Monday morning despite an around-the-clock police presence. No one was injured in any of the attacks.
The community, with a significant Jewish population, has been troubled, frustrated and mystified by how an apparently lone perpetrator – a hooded figure identified in security camera photos – remains at large.
Though less than a minyan of onlookers observed the media event, there were TV crews from four local stations recording what the organizers billed as a response to the recent “Nights of Broken Glass.”
The reference clearly was to Kristallnacht, when Nazis rioted against Jews in November 1938, burning down hundreds of synagogues, homes and stores, and resulting in an estimated 30,000 men rounded up and sent to concentration camps.
As upsetting as the recent rock-throwing has been, several rabbis and Jewish leaders in the community were appalled by the comparison, citing it as an example of the kind of hype and hyperbole that diminishes credibility. But they chose to keep their comments private so as not to give the impression to their constituents that they were insufficiently upset by the local attacks.
“We take these acts of vandalism very seriously and we work well together as a group,” one of the leaders explained, “but we don’t benefit from outsiders with their own agenda coming here, stirring things up and then going home.”
Criticism of “outsiders” was contained in a statement by the Riverdale Jewish Community Partnership, a broad coalition of local synagogues and institutions. Thirsday’s statement said the RJCP prefers to focus on”the unity of our Riverdale community, the support of government and extended community, and the belief that we will grow forward stronger. Let this not be a time of responding with hate, accusation, racism, or harmful speech, nor allowing outside organizations to reframe the message. Our strong, resilient community will continue to grow and thrive.”
The RJCP also rejected the Kristallnacht comparison, saying the Nazis’ attacks on the Jews were “met with silence or indifference.”
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“In our Riverdale community, the opposite has been the case,’ the RJCP statement continues. “Not only have the NYPD and our elected officials responded to these acts that have so shaken us, but also diverse leadership, faith leaders, and community members from across our neighborhood, city, and nation have stood in unity to say these attacks are simply unacceptable and need to be condemned.”
The statement cites support from nearby Manhattan College’s Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Center, which has opened a GoFundMe page to raise funds to repair the synagogues’ windows and doors.
A veteran of Jewish community relations work who observed the press conference noted that behind-the-scenes effort to quell tensions are often more effective than public displays of demands, though they may be less emotionally satisfying.
Stating that “the Jewish community is under constant attack,” as the speakers said on Thursday, is less than accurate and “not at all helpful,” he said.
After the press conference, as the onlookers dispersed and the television trucks drove off, several police officers remained on the scene.