On 30th anniversary of her son’s death in a terror attack at the Brooklyn Bridge, Devorah Halberstam decries ‘plague’ of hatred


(New York Jewish Week) — Devorah Halberstam, whose son Ari was killed in a 1994 terror shooting at the Brooklyn Bridge, decried rising antisemitism at a commemoration of the attack’s 30th anniversary.

“Hate has seeped into our society like a plague and we need to make changes,” Halberstam said at the event Friday afternoon at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge, where her 16-year-old son was gunned down

“Each day, men women and children are being targeted,” she said. The event occurred during a spike in antisemitism in New York City, and Halberstam emphasized that Jews especially are seen as “fair game.”

The Halberstam family belongs to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, and on the morning of March 1, 1994, Ari had visited the movement’s ailing leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Rebbe, at a Manhattan hospital. 

While traveling back to his home in Brooklyn in a van with 14 other Chabad students, attacker Rashid Baz opened fire on the vehicle, wounding Halberstam and three others. Halberstam succumbed to his injuries five days later.

Baz later confessed that he had targeted the group because they were Jewish. He was sentenced to 141 years in prison. The FBI designated the case as an act of terrorism only in 2000, following a years-long campaign by Devorah Halberstam. 

During her push for the terror attack designation, Halberstam forged ties with New York leaders and emerged as a community activist. She played a leading role in founding the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights, which is dedicated to her son and aims to counter hate through teaching. She now serves as the museum’s director of external affairs.

“We must never give up the fight to destroy terrorism, to destroy antisemitism,” she said in her speech on Friday. “We are here in America, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The brave must stand up and speak out.”

Ari Halberstam in an undated photograph. (Courtesy/Chabad.org)

Ari Halberstam in an undated photograph. (Courtesy/Chabad.org)

Before she delivered her speech, Halberstam visited the ramp where the shooting occurred, which has been named for her son. Standing in the cold winter sun alongside Mayor Eric Adams and other elected officials, Halberstam lit memorial candles for her son that were placed on the bridge’s railing. Halberstam and Adams, a former police officer, state senator and Brooklyn borough president, have become particularly close over the past 30 years, Halberstam said. 

Adams had been there for the family “for decades,” Halberstam said, and “not just when the cameras were there.”

She mourned her son in her emotional speech, describing how she had sat by his bedside for five days after the shooting and “cried from the depths of my soul hoping for a miracle.”

She said the grief still weighed on her after 10,957 days.

“I speak for all parents whose children were taken from them – there is no peace for us,” she said.

Speaking after Halberstam, Adams voted to “weed out hate no matter where it is.” The mayor said the 1994 shooting and Halberstam’s push for the terror attack designation had a lasting impact on the city’s security, forcing officials to confront “dangers that lurk in the shadows of our city.”

“This country takes a different view of terrorism because of what happened on this bridge,” Adams said. A number of attacks on Jews have taken place across the country since the 1994 shooting.

The event took place as Jews in New York City have grappled with a surge in antisemitism following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel and the ensuing war. The NYPD has documented an average spike of more than 100% in antisemitic hate crimes since October. Jews are consistently targeted in hate crimes more than any other group in the city, according to NYPD figures.

During the memorial ceremony, a person in a passing car shouted anti-Israel epithets at the crowd while it was walking up the ramp where the shooting occurred, but there were no other protests.

New York Attorney General Tish James, City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and Ari Halberstam’s younger brother, Shea, also spoke at the event.