The Five Towns voiced solidarity with the Jewish community in Monsey this week, following Saturday evening’s knife assault at a Chanukah party in the Rockland County hamlet.
Local political and religious leaders joined a widening chorus of national and state voices in condemning both the Monsey assault and the rising tide of anti-Semitic violence, much of it centered in and around New York City.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan filed federal hate crimes charges on Monday against 37-year-old Grafton Thomas in the attack that left five people injured; one remained in critical condition as of Monday. Grafton was arrested in Harlem two hours from the assault at Rabbi Rottenberg’s Shul.
Thomas’ family said in a statement on Sunday night that the suspect “has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations” but “no known history of anti-Semitism.” The family said he “was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races” and that “the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness.”
On Monday, prosecutors said investigators found journals in which Thomas wrote expressions of anti-Semitic views, with references to Adolf Hitler and “Nazi culture.” Thomas’ phone revealed he had recently searched online for phrases like “Why did Hitler hate the Jews,” “German Jewish Temples near me” and “Zionist Temples” in Elizabeth, N.J., and on Staten Island, the complaint said.
“We can no longer respond with platitudes,” said Allen Fagin on Woodmere, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union. “Acts of anti-Semitism must be treated as domestic terrorism and our laws must be changed to reflect the impact of such crimes on our democratic values.”
Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane, of Lawrence, said “the time for talk about anti-Semitic attacks is over — this is a time for action.”
Local leaders will meet with political officials later this week “to create a plan to enhance whatever security measures we are already taking,” Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Island of Woodmere said.
In a joint statement, Nassau County Executive Laura Curren and Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder said that while there were “no reported credible threats in Nassau County,” they would “continue our increased and intensified patrols in all areas of concern.” They urged increased vigilance
State Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Beach tweeted that he was “horrified” by the Monsey stabbings: “Attacks on Jews have reached a crisis level & we must be united in condemning the hatred AND taking concrete steps to combat it. If this is happening right here in NY, where can anyone feel safe?”
“This is an emergency,” tweeted Five Towns Rep. Kathleen Rice. “We must do all we can to combat the disturbing rise of anti-Semitic attacks in our communities.”
Rep. Gregory Meeks of Far Rockaway said he was “devastated” by the attack. “This string of anti-Semitic attacks and rising hate crimes is deeply concerning and New York has zero tolerance for it.”
“Let me be clear, violence and #Antisemitism have no place in our society,” tweeted State Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, who represents a portion of the Five Towns.
“The Jewish community is utterly terrified,” said Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey. “No one should have to live like this.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that Saturday’s attack was the 13th anti-Semitic act in New York since Dec. 8. A Dec. 10 massacre at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City left three victims dead.
Authorities do not believe that Thomas, who lived in Greenwood Lake, nearly 20 miles from Monsey, was connected to any of the New York City attacks, the AP reported. He grew up in Crown Heights and “lived peacefully” among Jewish neighbors, an aunt told the AP.