In late November, I hosted an informal meeting for leaders who represent the diversity of Jewish life in New York. Our primary conversation was about the increasing attacks against visibly Jewish people in Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Crown Heights. But our primary goal was to humanize “other” Jews, recognizing the critical need today for our broader New York Jewish community to become better connected.
One attendee’s comment replayed in my mind long after the meeting ended.
In response to a casual “How are you?” Rabbi Niederman, a rabbi from the Satmar Hasidic community, who runs a leading human service agency in Williamsburg, answered, “I’m scared.” His anxiety was palpable — and chilling.
Exactly three weeks later, this past Wednesday night, I was with Rabbi Niederman again: this time, at a funeral for the 24-year-old rabbinical student, Moshe Deutsch, who’d been killed in the attack on a Jewish grocery store in Jersey City. The son of Rabbi Niederman’s close friends, Moshe had grown up in Williamsburg. He was remembered as a kind and generous person, killed for no other reason than because he was Jewish.
Standing in the freezing cold outside the main synagogue in Williamsburg with thousands of others who’d come to mourn, I recalled another funeral I’d attended four years ago in Jerusalem. Back in 2015, it was a friend’s son and daughter-in-law, murdered by Palestinian terrorists. In another horrific incident earlier that same year, a kosher supermarket in France was attacked, killing multiple Jews.
In Israel and in Europe, tragically, we’ve come to know what anti-Jewish hatred looks like. But I must confess, it was deeply jarring for me to experience similar events in my own backyard.
Anti-Semitism, we’ve learned, comes from the right, left, and — as it seems was the case in Jersey City — groups that don’t fall neatly into either category. They all, however, employ the same pernicious anti-Semitic tropes. Hate is hate is hate.
My intent is not to sow fear, and indeed we cannot let anti-Semitism define our community. But we must acknowledge the rising threat and recognize — and truly internalize — that an attack on an identifiably Orthodox Jew is an attack against all Jews. And we must not allow our differences — religious, political, and otherwise — to overwhelm our collective commitment to stand together and forcefully call out all forms of anti-Semitism.
As the sun sets on this week, let us remember those killed in Jersey City: Moshe Deutsch; Leah Mindel Ferencz, who owned the kosher grocery store with her husband and was a mother of three; Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, a beloved employee at the store who had a young daughter; and Officer Joseph Seals, killed in the line of duty and a father of five.
Yehi zichram baruch — may their memories be for a blessing.
P.S. After the attack left Jersey City without its kosher supermarket, our partner Met Council got a call for help from Jersey City’s mayor. Demonstrating the power of our network partners, Met Council jumped into action and within 24 hours distributed 10,000 pounds of food, making certain the community has what they need for Shabbat.
We also responded to another call for help. At the request of Rabbi Niederman, UJA is contributing to the family of Douglas Miguel Rodriguez to support his burial in Ecuador and to help provide for his wife and daughter. You can learn more here.