New York City’s Jews are under attack. That’s the feeling among many in the Orthodox Jewish community after a slew of violent hate crimes has left several Orthodox Jewish men injured and entire communities fearful for their safety.

“There’s fear, there’s unease,” New York State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein explained in an interview. “On the streets of Borough Park and Midwood, people are feeling it.” Many New York Jews feel on edge.

For months, Jews in Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Orthodox populations have reported being threatened and attacked. In recent days, the violence has spiked to terrifying new levels. Over the course of just a few days, three Orthodox Jewish men were violently attacked in separate, seemingly random and terrifying incidents.

On August 27, 2019, Rabbi Avraham Gopin was exercising in a park in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn when he was attacked by a man wielding a brick. Rabbi Gopin lost two teeth in the assault. Two days later, an Orthodox man in the same neighborhood was sitting in his truck near when he was set upon by a group of men who hurled rocks, shattering the truck window and injuring the driver in the eye.

Graffiti at the Silver Gull Club.

On September 7, another Orthodox man was assaulted, this time by a man wielding a belt, as he left his synagogue at the close of Shabbat in the Midwood neighborhood in Brooklyn. That same Labor Day Weekend, a private beach club in Queens closed its play area after anti-Semitic and racist graffiti was found painted on buildings and equipment. The words “Heil Hitler”, “Gas Chamber” and swastikas defaced the club.

Anti-Jewish hate crimes are surging in New York City. Over 150 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported so far in 2019, up 63% from this time last year. New York City police recently reported that over half of all hate crimes in New York have taken place against Jews.

New York City is trying to respond to the rise in hate, though much still needs to be done. On September 3, 2019, Mayor Bill de Blasio opened a new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes. Led by former Anti-Defamation League official Deborah Lauter, the center will gather data and coordinate responses. Though the city is working to tackle the climate of anti-Semitism that’s taken hold, Assemblyman Eichenstein believes the problem requires new approaches.

“The cops are doing what they can,” Mr. Eichenstein explained, and “we have a great DA in Brooklyn, DA (Eric) Gonzalez, who’s taking this very seriously.” Yet the police and the District Attorney can only respond to crimes after they take place. What’s needed now, Mr. Eichenstein feels, is a massive program and education.

“We live in such a hostile political climate,” he laments. Hate crimes are up, and not only in New York City. “This is a real epidemic.”

Mr. Eichenstein thinks education is one key solution. When vandals daub swastikas in New York, perhaps one way to fight this hate is to “go into the schools and teach them about the Holocaust.” Mr. Eichenstein notes with approval that New York’s State Government is currently considering legislation that would mandate teaching about the Holocaust in all schools. “We need a full, head-on preventative action.”

Another problem Mr. Eichenstein observes is a glaring lack of leadership in the face of anti-Semitic and other hate crimes. “It is a fact that there is hate on our streets right now. People are feeling it, it’s real. Unfortunately, the response we’re getting from our leaders is tweets. We need action, not tweets.”

NY State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein

A significant obstacle to addressing the surging anti-Semitism is an inability to come together and wholeheartedly condemn the hatred. Instead of condemning all forms and instances of anti-Jewish crime and rhetoric, the Assemblyman notes, people often seem more willing to use anti-Semitic incidents to score political points than to condemn anti-Semitism in all its forms, wherever it comes from. Anti-Jewish sentiment is “coming from the right and the left,” Mr. Eichenstein says, yet the Jewish community seems unable to rise above partisan differences and acknowledge this.

“Anyone who says it’s only coming from the right or only coming from the left is incorrect.” An Orthodox Jew himself, Mr. Eichenstein laments the lack of cohesion in the Jewish community. “As a Jew it’s so frustrating that wherever I go people say it’s coming from the right or the left. Why can’t you face the facts and face reality that it’s coming from the left and the right? Why does everything get caught up in politics? Why can’t we say what’s really happening – that Jews are being attacked – and call hate what it is?”

Perhaps because the victims in recent attacks have been Orthodox Jews, there’s been a conspicuous lack of indignation outside of the communities that are directly affected. Responses to the attacks have been muted. “Where’s the outrage?” Assemblyman Eichenstein asks. “Where’s the outcry?” In the face of violent attacks, people outside of the Orthodox community seem remarkably sanguine. “Where are our leaders?”

In the face of rising attacks and what he seems as lack of political leadership, Mr. Eichenstein has some crucial advice for all of us. "Remember, when one minority community is targeted, every minority community is targeted.” This wave of hatred is dangerous to us all. “As an American, you should be outraged by what is happening,” he warns. “Whether you’re Jewish or not, if you believe in freedom, you have to act. This is not what America is all about.”

Article graphic is photo of the bloodstained tzitzis posted by Benny Friedman after his father-in-law, a Hasidic Jew, was attacked in Brooklyn on Aug. 27, 2019