The observant Jewish community doesn’t generally seek, or usually appreciate, media attention. Much of it tends to yield silly, misleading or, at worst, even negative stories. But there are times when the news media should in fact be focused on our world but, strangely enough, seems missing in action.
Like in the case of the recent wave of hate crimes aimed at visibly Jewish Jews in Brooklyn. There have been 36 attacks on Jews so far this year in New York City; last year saw 21. In Crown Heights, chareidi Jews have been violently attacked at least 15 times over the past few months.
One video recording of an attack showed a Jewish man being beaten to the ground and pummeled by three young men; another showed a Jewish man being chased across the street by an attacker wielding a tree branch. A third showed a Jewish man hanging on to a fence as an assailant tried to choke him. A Jewish woman walking down a main street was punched, unprovoked, by a stranger.
And just over a week ago, two men threw an object into the large front window of a Chabad synagogue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
Headlines across the country repeatedly blared the news of an alleged hate crime against a black actor in Chicago, even before it was revealed as a likely hoax. But there was nary a word about ongoing, all too real, assaults against religious Jews.
That the assaults were hateful in nature, aimed specifically at the Jewish community, is clear. The attacks, by complete strangers, did not involve theft of property. To their credit and our appreciation, the city and its police department, after the earliest of the recent spate of hate crimes, stepped up measures to protect the community, including an increase in police vehicles and foot patrols, but the incidents continued.
Since the 1991 Crown Heights riots against Jews, levelheadedness and good will have kept the neighborhood, which is home to Chabad, Caribbean and African-American communities, relatively peaceful and safe for all. Community relations among disparate groups in Boro Park and Flatbush have also generally been good. A question worth asking is whether that modus vivendi might be eroding. And, if so, why.
One factor that can’t be overlooked is the influence of rabid rabble-rousers like Louis Farrakhan and his “Nation of Islam.” While most black New Yorkers have no connection to the demagogue, he exerts a subtle influence on some people outside his group’s deluded membership. When Farrakhan rails against Jews — as he did for the umpteenth time mere days ago — people with compromised capacities for critical thinking might come to assume there must be some truth to the fabrications he relishes espousing. And even some people who easily see the racist’s slanders for the lies they are still choose to view the modern-day Julius Streicher as somehow worthy of respect.
Stopping the violence against Jews could be helped along by responsible black leaders clearly disavowing the hatred that fuels such evil. New York’s new attorney general Letitia James, who, as a city councilwoman represented part of Crown Heights and who has repeatedly spoken out against anti-Semitism, is a superb example for others to follow.
But the media have a part to play as well. The New York Times last week ran a comprehensive story about the violence against Jews in the city. But it was rather late to run the story, which has unfolded over many months. And national media, which reflexively and regularly report on bias crimes against other identifiable ethnic, religious or racial groups, seem to have overlooked the recent attacks on Jews.
Media attention, of course, is a two-edged blade. It can generate rightful outrage, inspire people to be vigilant and yield concrete action. But it can also encourage people inclined to hateful violence and copycat crimes.
In the end, though, media coverage of anti-Jewish violence on our streets is important, if only to reflect reality. And the relative dearth of media interest in what has, unfortunately, become an ongoing series of violent acts against members of our community says something.
It says something about contemporary society, that, for some reason, seems to regard the well-being of religious Jews as less worthy a concern than that of other identifiable populations. That’s disturbing, and worth some honest introspection, on the media’s part.
And it says something to us, too, we whose friends and relatives have been attacked. Namely, that, comfortable and secure as we have come to feel in this truly wonderful country, we are still very much in galus.