Understanding the danger NYC Jews face


Sydney Starkey

Lily Zuckerman writes about the bigotry impacting people of Jewish descent.

Lily Zuckerman, Features Editor

Last Thursday, during my daily scroll through the New York Post, I read a headline that grabbed my attention. I read, “Manhattan judge releases man accused of plotting to attack NYC synagogues.” Then I searched “Jewish hate crimes” and came across the Washington Post headline, “A family finds swastikas in the lawn as antisemitism surges,” which happened in Massachusetts. Recent headlines like these are reminiscent of 1930s Germany. It’s scary to think about, knowing what followed in those years.

 I read the full article and felt a pit in my stomach. The NY Post article by Kyle Schnitzer and Natalie O’Neill  stated, “A Manhattan judge let one of the two men accused of plotting to attack New York City synagogues continue to walk free Wednesday — after prosecutors asked for the second time in two weeks that he be held in jail without bail,”   

The two men were Christopher Brown and Matthew Mahrer. The latter, Mahrer, from the Upper West Side was let free.  I wondered how safe my father would feel when, on occasion, he attends Friday night services at Congregation Rodeph Sholom in the Upper West Side. Something he enjoys attending and considers sacred will now cause him fear for his safety. Additionally, I will be worried for his safety on those nights too.  

I sent the link to my family group chat as we spend a lot of time in our New York City apartment on the Upper West Side, where we could practically be neighbors with the attack plotter. For all we know, he could live in our building or on our street; the real problem is that he is free. I wanted my mother, father, and sister to be aware of Mahrer’s appearance so that they can identify him and be mindful when going to the temple. 

The sad truth is that, though we do not go often, we often fear that a hate crime could occur every time we do attend. Whether we are at a temple for Yom Kippur, Passover, or a Friday night service, our safety is always a concern that crosses our minds. 

Upon reading the recent headlines regarding Mahrer and his antisemitism, as well as the story about a Massachusetts house being covered in swastikas, I wondered if strangers could identify me as Jewish just by my appearance. Although I have blonde hair and blue eyes which contradicts the stereotypical look of a Jew, I still don’t feel a high level of protection from Jewish hate crimes. There are other factors that clearly identify me as Jewish. My last name, Zuckerman–Yiddish for “sugar man”  – and a common last name in the Jewish community. Just because I am not in immediate danger from hate crimes, does not mean that the media does not affect me. 

The Upper West Side is historic for its vibrant Jewish community. Among its streets lies the famous Kosher deli, Zabar’s, and the historic Barney Greengrass. These classic Jewish-owned restaurants are renowned for the connection they create between Jews. Many Jews occupy the Upper West Side. According to an article in the NY Times, About three-quarters of the 1.8 million people who live in Jewish households in the New York area live in 1 of 30 distinct geographic areas, the study found. There are as many Jews on the Upper West Side — 70,500.” 

Junior Gabriel Heller attends a temple on the Upper West Side where Mahrer is walking freely. He said, “Going into the temple and seeing how these repeating acts of anti-semtism and violence towards my community is unsettling. It’s something we have to deal with as a community, not just on the Upper West Side, but as a whole Jewish community in general.” Heller is not alone. 

I don’t wear a Star of David necklace, but for my Jewish friends that do, I know when they leave their apartments they tuck their necklace in. Whether it’s walking down the street or going to dinner, their first thought of going out in public is that they should not express their Jewishness. It affects not only their fear but their Jewish pride. Orthodox Jews of the Upper West Side, are the most identifiable members of the Jewish community, due to traditional chassidish clothing.

This is not the first example of an antisemite roaming the streets of New York City— it won’t be the last. We need to keep our eyes open for people like Mahrer, because antisemites do exist in this day in age no matter how far or close. Despite anti-Jewish hate crimes, do not let them win: do not conform to the non-Jewish world, wear your Kippot, don your Star of David, and remember to say, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Though Jewish hate crimes may be on the rise, remember to keep your Jewish pride this Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27.