Hate Crimes, Official and Unofficial

The news of the horrific assault on a Rebbi in Monsey last week shocked us all.

As he walked to shul in the early morning, he was set upon in a vicious stabbing that left him in critical condition.

Since arriving at Westchester Medical Center, his condition has reportedly improved after multiple surgeries, though at last word doctors there were still fighting to save his sight in a badly wounded eye.

Readers are asked to daven for the refuah sheleimah of Mordechai ben Bracha, besoch sh’ar cholei Yisrael.

This was only the latest — and worst — of a surge of physical attacks on members of the Jewish community. In Boro Park on Motzoei Shabbos, three suspects robbed a delicatessen on Fort Hamilton Parkway and 45th Street, knocking a shtreimel off a passerby’s head on their way out. This followed a spate of anti-Semitic violence in Boro Park earlier in the month.

Thus far, Ramapo police do not believe that the stabbing in Monsey was a hate crime and are not treating it as such.

“Although there are those who believe that this was a hate crime, the official position of the Town of Ramapo Police Department is that at this time, there is no evidence to support that contention,” the department wrote on its social media page Friday, quoting Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel.

“If anyone has facts that this is a hate crime … we strongly encourage them to come forward and report this information to our agency,” it added.

For the victim, the pain and trauma and the medical treatment are the same whether the wounds were inflicted by a neo-Nazi or an unaffiliated madman. Regardless of the motive, such violence is a very grave threat to the welfare of a free society.

However, when such an attack is driven by hatred against Jews, the knife carries a twist of its own. It lacerates like no other cut.

Legally, to charge someone with a hate crime, proof is needed. But suspicion is enough to engender feelings of persecution that require no proof. We have been the victims of hate crimes for centuries, long before it was made an official category.

In addition, these recent cases are not isolated. They come only months after the mass shootings at congregations in Pittsburgh and Poway, as well as almost daily reports of lesser incidents and verbal outbursts against the Jewish people in the media.

Each time we shudder at the hatred against us, but it also reminds us that we continue to dwell in galus — that as much as Jews have enjoyed acceptance and success in America, we always remain potential targets for those who will never accept us and will always begrudge our achievements, whether material or spiritual.

In the meantime, history offers a certain consolation. Once again, it must be noted that the response of the authorities here is so different from those in Europe in former times. There, the anti-Semitism was enshrined in the laws of the lands, like the Pale of Settlement, and the animus was fully shared and sometimes even organized by the state and the police in the form of pogroms.

By contrast, in America, the law is on our side. The Constitution protects freedom of religion and the openly anti-Semitic politician has been the exception rather than the rule.

In recent years, the label “hate crime” has been created in the hope of deterring such crimes through tougher punishment.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio launched the Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes (OPHC) this past summer. Faced with an upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks, the mayor met with askanim and declared that “anti-Semitism has no place in this city” and that he has “directed the NYPD to deploy additional resources in the community…”

While the Monsey case is still under investigation, police arrested three suspects in the Boro Park deli robbery. With the help of Shomrim, they were able to quickly identify and apprehend them. The question of hate crime is being looked into.

Legal action, law enforcement, community watches, education about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust — these are all necessary elements in the hishtadlus of self-defense. But they provide no ultimate answer. Indeed, to the frustration and bafflement of some people, decades of such efforts have not served to eradicate the scourge of anti-Semitism in America.

Ultimately, the roots of this hatred are spiritual, and the response of the Jewish community must be on a spiritual level as well.

If the anti-Semite prowls the streets late at night or gets up early in the morning to do his hateful work, then we too must dedicate our nights and our mornings to avodas Hashem and to strive for that hundred percent to match their hatred with our love of Torah and mitzvos and our heartfelt tefillos.