Last Thursday night, Kew Gardens Hills resident Arthur Toporovsky was walking on Main Street on his way to a late minyan at Yeshiva Kesser Torah when two men violently attacked him. “I was walking along Main Street, about 11:05 or so, at the corner before Chabad, when I saw someone pass me on the right and suddenly felt a weight on my shoulder and then an arm go across my neck and a hand suddenly moving under my jawline,” he wrote on Facebook.
“I thought it might have been a weapon but I did not see one. I started to scream as loudly as possible, tried to push away, bite the arm, and suddenly I was falling to the ground and he was in front of me. I started trying to kick him and kept screaming as loudly as I could.” Toporovsky ran north on Main Street, calling for help while his attackers ran towards 147th Street.
Such an attack in an otherwise safe neighborhood may appear random, but with the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents across the city and nation, Toporovsky was unsure why he was targeted. “I think my clothing was fairly neutral, religion-wise. Hawaiian shirt, jeans, Converse hi-tops, Kangol cap. So, not particularly Jewish, but maybe to an outsider it might have been.”
Toporovsky reported the incident to the 107th Precinct. Officers showed up within 15 minutes for a brief ride around the immediate blocks, with a detective interviewing him the next day. He also heard back from Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal and Councilman Rory Lancman, who expressed concern.
A week earlier, on Monday, August 26, a much more severe attack against a Jew occurred in Lincoln Terrace Park in Brooklyn, where Rabbi Avraham Gopin, 64, was hit with a brick and lost his front teeth. His attacker appeared on security footage from a nearby property as a young black male. “He threw this huge brick at my father-in-law. My father-in-law says there was no question this man had murder on his mind,” popular chasidic singer Benny Friedman tweeted. “My father-in-law tried to defend himself. He is in the hospital now with a broken nose, missing teeth, stitches on his head and lacerations on his body.” The entertainer added that in his birthplace state of Minnesota, “this would be front-page headlines. But here in Brooklyn this is just the latest event.”
Within hours, elected officials from the Governor and Mayor, down to the local representatives, expressed their sympathy, and the Anti-Defamation League posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the attacker’s arrest.
Rabbi Gopin’s attacker was a young man of color, and some Jewish commentators openly asked whether mainstream news organizations and self-described justice advocates would have given more attention to the crime had the attacker been a white male wearing either a white hood or a red baseball cap with the presidential slogan. CNN anchor Jake Tapper retweeted the Forward headline: “Why Does No One Care About Violence Against Orthodox Jews?”
The opinion piece was written by Avital Chizhik-Goldshmidt, who noted the common thread weaving together the attacks against Orthodox homeowners, eruv applications, and perceptions that Orthodox Jews are more likely to engage in fraudulent activities. “Why will no one speak up on our behalf? Why don’t people rush to call out these hate crimes? Instead, they won’t even call it a hate crime. We have to hear them call it a mugging, or tell us it wasn’t due to the black hat or yarmulke – but actually due to a development, the schools, measles outbreaks, tax evasion, don’t you know.”
To see her words appear in The Forward signals that for all the woke solidarity of this publication for other minority groups, there is also solidarity for fellow Jews, even when it means confronting political allies for their apparent indifference. “The unwillingness to act from those in power in New York City sends a clear message to my community: If the perpetrator doesn’t wear a red baseball cap – we don’t care. If the attacker wasn’t radicalized by a 4chan discussion about immigrants – it’s not a crime worthy of serious response, because it won’t assist us in our electability, and it will just complicate matters.”
Brooklyn Councilman Chaim Deutsch noted that this past Shabbos, a Jewish man walking shortly after nightfall on Avenue J and East 15th Street was hit with a belt by two assailants who shouted anti-Semitic epithets at him. Then there were the doors at Silver Gull Beach Club at Breezy Point, the southernmost tip of Queens, where vandals scrawled the words “Heil Hitler” and “gas chamber.”
When a New York Times reporter contacted the club for a quote, she was told, “We have no comment because there’s an ongoing investigation,” by general manager Jamie Blatman. Some of the club’s Jewish members are children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors and asked why their club provided such a muted response.
One can imagine that had the attack been motivated by anti-gay bias, there would be rainbow flags of solidarity flying everywhere between City Hall and the manager’s office. Likewise, if the graffiti had been targeting African-Americans or Hispanics, it would result in marches across the Brooklyn Bridge and sit-ins at Times Square to make sure that the story receives coverage.
Three weeks earlier, anti-Semitic flyers appeared on Norman Street in Ridgewood, Queens, and a Holocaust revisionist nearly had the opportunity to speak at a church in Ozone Park before a letter from this author to the bishop put the kibosh on that event. As of August 25, anti-Jewish hate crimes rose to 145, up from 88 from the same date last year.
The attack on Toporovsky may not have been motivated by hate. In the same neighborhood, on the night of Thursday, August 22, two men of color put a 40-year-old man in a chokehold after he delivered food to a home. He lost his cell phone, wallet, and $250 in cash. Three nights later, the same two suspects choked a 55-year-old man in the area of 75th Road and Main Street.
According to police, they approached the victim just after he had used a nearby ATM. They ran off with $700 in cash. Within two blocks of this intersection are five banks, and it is easy to imagine a mugger lying in wait on a late evening for someone to leave an ATM. “It may be connected,” said Toporovsky. “The fellow with the umbrella looks familiar, and the tactic and area sound familiar. I can’t believe that I escaped.”
Our community is vigilant. We have trained volunteers serving in the Queens Shmira, community members wearing the uniform of the NYPD Auxiliary Police, and synagogues equipped with alarms, cameras, and combination locks. We’ve rallied in the past without the support of national organizations. We’ve written letters on our own initiative. Our elected officials share our concerns. As we look forward to the arrest of Toporovsky’s attackers, we also expect our leaders to make combating anti-Semitism a priority.
By Sergey Kadinsky