MONSEY (VINnews) — The brutal pre-dawn beating and stabbing of a young Jewish man in the quiet rural town of Monsey last Wednesday shook the entire Jewish community due to its unusual venue. Attacks on Jews in New York, a city replete with racial tensions, have been all too common, but what appeared initially to be a serious hate crime targeting an innocent Jew on the way to prayers had not occurred previously in Monsey, a town where Jews feel they hardly need to lock their doors.
The reason the attack appeared to be a hate crime was easily apparent . A 30-year-old teacher was stabbed multiple times just down the block from his house of worship. The assailant’s car, witnesses said, appeared to have been driving around the neighborhood for some time beforehand — as though, it seemed, on the hunt for an Orthodox Jewish victim.
Moreover the recent controversies over the expansion of the Orthodox communities in Rockland County seemed to supply a motive for such a hate crime.
In August, the Republican party here released an ad called “A Storm Is Coming,” which accused county legislator Aron Wieder, who is a Chasidic Jew, of helping plot an Orthodox “takeover” of the area, threatening “our homes, our families, our schools, our communities, our water, our way of life.”
James Foley, who was recently elected as a county legislator in the area, made campaign signs reading “Block the bloc,” an apparent reference to Chasidic Jews voting as a bloc, and citing the “Ramapo Mafia.” (Monsey is a hamlet in the city of Ramapo.) The ad and the campaign have been accompanied by vitriolic anti-Jewish statements on social media as well, residents say.
That, alongside the continuing attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, meant that Chasidic Jews here were primed for a hate crime, Rivkie Feiner, the chief executive of a nonprofit consulting group and a longtime resident of Monsey, told Forward.com
“It used to be Europe, and then Brooklyn, and things unfortunately creep into Monsey, to Rockland,” she said. “So of course that was the fear. That trajectory is what led to that conclusion.”
Ramapo police however insisted that they were not investigating the attack as a hate crime, which would require planning to attack someone based on religion, race, gender, and/or sexual preference. This has prompted numerous different rumors to circulate, some more or less far-fetched, regarding the target of the attack and its motivation.
Detectives have yet to conduct an in-depth discussion with the 30-year-old rabbi, who has undergone surgeries and is in serious but stable condition at Westchester Medical Center since the attack last Wednesday.
While Police Chief Brad Weidel is not sharing many details of the investigation — such as description and motive — he has said the video footage obtained of the attack is of low quality. Police are working with other law enforcement agencies to enhance the footage.
Police are also considering various rumors and theories. Weidel said he and detectives are aware of several theories being shared among members of the Chasidic community, in synagogues and on the street. He declined to discuss specifics.
“I am aware of much of the chatter which has been ongoing on social media and in the community regarding the stabbing and assault in Monsey this past week,” Weidel said. “A lot of people are speaking out,” he said. “We will make decisions based on the facts. … There are investigative efforts occurring on multiple levels.”
Some of these rumors referred to by the police referred to a possible mistaken identity, an inside job which had gone badly wrong.
Rabbi Yisroel Kahan said the Monsey community is still fearful and he has heard talk of other causes beyond a hate-inspired attack, but the lack of information from police hasn’t eased their concerns.
“This is very possibly mistaken identity,” Kahan told LoHud.com, a local Rockland county news service. “This is scary. It’s even scarier when people jump to conclusions. This is a tight community so everybody talks. People are scared to go out. The insecurity from the unknown raises doubts.”
However Kahan said the fact Weidel can’t classify the attack as a hate crime offers some solace for people who fear Jews are being targeted indiscriminately.
“The lack of details is nerve-wracking to people,” Kahan said. “If it’s not a hate crime, mistaken identity is on people’s mind. If so, what was the reason? Whoever the person or persons behind this, everybody prays they are caught and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Yossi Gestetner, a co-founder of Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, said the dynamics of the crime and the community offer challenges for the police.
“Based on the crime scene — and I am not an expert on solving law enforcement cases — it’s potentially a cold trail,” Gestetner told LoHud.com. “Rumors in any community can be rooted in something true or something imagined. But law enforcement always has theories to work on and hopefully they will solve this case.”
He said police can use the rumors for leads or to dismiss scenarios.
“If law enforcement relies too much on what’s being said, it may be chasing ghosts,” Gestetner said. “Law enforcement should use discretion to decide what types of rumors to look at.”
Regardless of whether the teacher was a victim of a hate crime, Gestetner said anti-Semitic attacks and rhetoric across the region and in New York City have aroused the community’s awareness.
“The frequency and severity of anti-Semitic attacks on Orthodox Jews in the tri-state area has escalated in recent months, including beatings, rock throwing and dangerous vehicle maneuvers towards Chasidim walking home from Shul,” Gestetner said. “These incidents are why leaders within the Jewish community asked that this seemingly unprovoked stabbing attack should also be looked at as a possible hate crime among other possibilities.”
A fundraiser has been created for the victim and his family in their time of need.