Saturday was the seventh night of Hanukkah, a holiday normally celebrated with singing and fried foods and the soft glow of lit menorahs. A gathering of Hasidic Jews at the home of a rabbi in Monsey, New York, instead turned into a nightmare when a man wielding a large knife rushed in and began attacking. Five people were reportedly stabbed and wounded. As of midday Sunday, according to law enforcement, two victims were still in the hospital.
“There’s a lot of horror,” Shoshana Bernstein, a community organizer and mother who lives in Monsey, told me. “It’s tapping into every fear.” Part of the shock is that this happened in Monsey, a densely Jewish community just north of New York City, in the metropolitan area that is home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel. Jews have been in New York since before the city got its name, and have deeply influenced its culture. At one point, they made up as much as a quarter of its population. Now, according to researchers at Brandeis University, roughly 1.7 million Jews live in the metropolitan area, nearly 10 percent of the population. By comparison, Jews make up roughly 2 percent of the United States population as a whole.
Here, of all places, Jews should feel safe. But the Monsey stabbing is just the latest in an escalating drumbeat of violence in the area. Less than three weeks ago, a pair of assailants allegedly murdered two Jews, a law-enforcement officer, and a clerk at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey. There have been at least 13 anti-Semitic incidents in New York State since early December, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo, and at least 10 in the New York–New Jersey area in the past week alone, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The Monsey attack could mark a fundamental turning point for Jews in New York, and across the country: Jews are being targeted for violence, whether they live in the heart of Brooklyn or the suburbs of Rockland County, where Monsey is located. “I think the reality is seeping in,” Bernstein said. “It doesn’t matter who you are [or] what your religious affiliation is. We’re not safe as Jews in New York.”