The recent violence in Israel has led to an unprecedented disturbing rise in antisemitic attacks and violence targeting Jewish communities worldwide.
Queens Jewish community leaders noticed these cowardly acts and held an emergency meeting at the 107th police precinct to discuss mounting tension amongst Jews citywide. Tips and practical advice were sought to provided locals with knowledge of how to react when confronted with violence. Many remembered how our community stood up for the NYPD when they were in hard times and under constant attack and now are turning to the officers when our Jewish community is in a state of alarm.
Newly installed Commanding Officer of the precinct Captain Kevin Chan stepped into the leading position just this past week amid the hate spike. “See something, say something”; the well-known motto was the theme Chan continually impressed as he urged leaders to implore on Jewish residents to dial 911 when something just is not right.
Leaders also heard from the 112th precinct’s Commanding Officer Captain Joseph E. Cappelmann, Council Member James F. Gennaro, who chaired the program, and Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal.
Those in attendance spoke on behalf of residents in Kew Gardens Hills, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, and Fresh Meadows, among other neighborhoods, and repeatedly thanked the officers for their service and dedication. “We thank you for always being ready and willing to go out each day and keep our communities safe and protected,” said one shul representative. Others took note of the continued visible presence of the NYPD on major thoroughfares like Main Street and some nearby side streets, as well as near shuls - an essential measure to give residents peace of mind and a sense of security.
Gennaro noted, “We regard this situation as a crisis, and we thank the captain for hearing our concerns.” The increase of antisemitism and hate crimes in our backyard was front and center, and the intervention of the Hate Crimes Task Force as a method to combat the rise was mentioned. Leaders heard of an incident this past Thursday evening at Yeshiva Kesser Torah, where worshippers were shouted at by a group of teenagers who threw rocks, used a taser, and engaged in vile cursing.
Chan offered direct tips to shuls and institutions to deter possible attacks. “Prevention is key,” said the commanding officer. “Good lighting at houses of worship and working cameras” were two suggestions that can help discourage mischief at public places, according to Chan. He explained that there should be more than one working camera at each location with recording features that save at the least a month of data. This will be a vital resource to officers if something unexpected occurs. Chan also dissuaded the use of motion detection cameras like the commonly used Ring doorbell, as these often begin recording too late for a full understanding of an incident, especially at highly visible locations like a shul. Chan said that using these measures will help the department. “We want to always catch the criminals before other situations take place.”
Chan explained that officers on patrol make effort to visit each house of worship, and encouraged shuls to become knowledgeable with the House of Worship Auxiliary Team and invite them to your shul to become more familiar with the premises, its congregants, and more importantly to address the concerns of your membership. The auxiliary officers can be reached at (718) 969-6417 to schedule such a visit.
Many shuls have taken upon themselves to hire private security firms for Shabbos services. If an incident arises, Chan encourages these security personnel to call 911 for NYPD intervention.
Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association chairman Meshulem Lisker detailed his confidence in the NYPD and the need to report things which you see amiss. Chan acknowledged a fear of people to reach out to the police, but explained that the more the department knows, the better prepared they are to assist. “Being quiet hurts the neighborhood,” said Lisker. “To protect ourselves better, speak up.”
One recurring question was what to do when a car drives up to you and the riders burst into a hateful rant. Attendees aware of the freedom of speech rights in the First Amendment asked for a course of direction. Chan explained that there are other factors at play, and it is possible that the driver had intention to run someone over, amongst other factors. “Call 911 to investigate; allow the police to handle such a situation,” Chan pleaded.
Cap. Chan, a proud Asian-American police executive, began his career with the NYPD in 2006, becoming a sergeant in 2011 and a lieutenant in 2014, until finally reaching the height of captain in 2017, where he served as executive officer in the 105th police precinct, also in Queens.
Avraham Pinkhasov, a Queens Borough Safety Patrol-Shmira member and liaison to the 112th precinct, explained how constant communication over week and months with the precinct has led Shmira and the NYPD acting as “a joint force to create a family.”
In denouncing the hate, Gennaro said, “The recent horrific attacks against Jews in our City are seared into our psyches such that we cannot un-see them - nor should we un-see them. We cannot ignore these despicable and cowardly acts, or the hateful and irresponsible anti-Semitic rhetoric, which seemingly spew from every direction. This incident speaks to a larger problem of anti-Semitism plaguing New York and our nation. Elected officials and New Yorkers must stand together to unequivocally denounce all forms of hatred.” Gennaro pledge to continue a dialogue with Chan as continued measures as taken to enhance the security of our community. “Public safety is my top priority, and I vow to continue to partner with the NYPD to prevent and - when needed - to prosecute these types of hate crimes.” Gennaro also said that the Mayor takes his calls and is committed to the safety of the district. Gennaro also has a line of communication with Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz as they work to prosecutes any violent and hateful act to the fullest extent of the law.
112th police precinct Commanding Officer Joseph E. Cappelmann responded to a query on bail reform. “There are complex dynamics surrounding bail reform and its laws will continually change. Often the DA requests bail, and sometimes it is granted,” said Cappelmann. It was pointed out that our current unsettled reality is a product of the State Assembly and not the City Council. Assembly Member Daniel Rosenthal clearly stated that he opposed the bail reform laws in the voting process and encouraged the community to remain vigilant. Rosenthal added a pronounced thank you to Cap. Cappelmann for sending in resources to protect the businesses of 108th Street in Forest Hills when news of a Pro-Palestinian protest spread throughout the community this past Sunday evening. Resources were brought in from around the borough due to the commanding officer’s involvement and, although no protest occurred, the response from the NYPD to the community’s concerns was duly noted.
For its part, Shmira has increased its patrols with members now taking two to three shifts a week focusing on night shifts from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. “We have begun to teach our members how not to engage in a situation that will put their lives in danger, rather to speak with the NYPD and explain the ongoing situation,” said Hiski Meirov, a coordinator. “We are here to take their direction as we work hand-in-hand with the officers.” Meirov calls on the community not to walk alone and try to stroll in a group setting. “Children and our elders especially should not be outside alone. When you are outside, avoid private parking lots and community driveways and stick to public grounds,” Meirov advised. “An incident can unfold in a split second. Those looking to inflict harm will often travel in groups of three or more and target someone who is alone.”
Avi Cyperstein, co-founder of Chaverim of Queens called for a heightened awareness no matter your age – from teenagers to adults and the elderly. “In the current climate, we can all be victims. One of the weakest points of public safety is that a criminal often feels they have nothing to lose, so one should never provoke someone else harassing them.” Chaverim of Queens does not consider itself a public safety organization. “We stand proudly as an ally of Shmira. I saw Shmira going around block to block at 1:30 a.m.; this is special work,” said Cyperstein. “If you find yourself in a Chaverim-related emergency, be smart about who you ask for assistance, and be careful and aware of your surroundings.” Cyperstein, a City Council candidate for district 29, mentioned, “This past Friday morning I was contacted by a group of American-Israeli IDF soldiers to organize security for a pro-Israel Manhattan gathering. They had heard I had received the endorsement of the City of New York police detectives, DEA. It was deemed that due to too many unknown factors of a lone terrorist acting, the event was unsafe. We must always stay on point.”
“Residents must be super sensitive to their surroundings,” stated Yoni Fricker, a Shmira coordinator. “This is definitely a time when it is not as safe as it used to be.” Fricker reminded parents to supervise their children when playing outside, and if one needs to travel outside, they should go in pairs, at a minimum. Fricker beseeched of the community, “Put down your phones when out and about. Texting, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat can all wait until you arrive safely back at home.”
At the Monday evening event, some community members suggested for women to carry a legal pepper spray-like product often sold in pharmacies or online. Additionally, leaders joined the staff of the Queens Jewish Link and Bukharian Jewish Link in presenting the officers with dinner from SoySauce as a token of gratitude.
By Shabsie Saphirstein