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Anti-Defamation League Responds To New York Stabbing Attack


Last night, there was another violent attack against Jewish people, this time in Monsey, N.Y., a town about an hour north of New York City. Dozens of people were reportedly gathered in the home of Hasidic Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg to celebrate Hanukkah when an intruder entered the home and began attacking people with a machete. Five victims were taken to local hospitals with stab wounds.

Evan Bernstein is the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and he was on the scene last night. And he joins us now. Hello.

EVAN BERNSTEIN: Hi. Good to be on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you know how the victims are doing this morning, first of all? And let me also say I'm so sorry.

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, I know. It's been a terrible - it's been, actually, a terrible 2 1/2 weeks with the Jersey City - and now dealing with what we had to deal with last night in Monsey. To my knowledge, right now, there's one victim in critical condition. The other four are seeming to be doing OK. And the community just is clearly reeling from this violent act of hate.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What are people in the community saying about the attack? How are they reacting to it?

BERNSTEIN: I think because there's been so much physical attack on the Orthodox Jewish population, you know, with - you know, clearly, the two murders in Jersey City - these communities are very interconnected. So when things happen that are so violent in nature in these - in such a large rash of attacks in such a short period of time, it doesn't just shake that one community. It shakes the entire kind of Orthodox region.

I was there overnight. I was there from about 11 o'clock until about 6 o'clock this morning talking with people on the ground and dealing with law enforcement. But the people on the ground are just so scared.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The alleged attacker was caught last night by police in Harlem. Governor Andrew Cuomo has directed the state police hate crimes task force to investigate the incident. We should add that officials have not yet said whether they're investigating this as a hate crime. What do you think?

BERNSTEIN: Well, I think we have to let law enforcement do their due diligence. We have to let them investigate. We have to let them talk to the perpetrator and find out the motives and not jump to conclusions. But when something happens in the rabbi's home during Hanukkah, the first thing that most Jews in the community are going to lean into is, this was a targeted attack.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You've been at the Anti-Defamation League for more than six years. You know, as you mentioned, this attack comes less than a month after four people were killed at a Jersey City kosher supermarket. There have been at least seven other reportedly anti-Semitic incidents in New York City this week. This recent uptick in hate crimes - what are your thoughts on that?

BERNSTEIN: I think it's - you know, what's different about what we've seen in the last, you know, 2 1/2 weeks is the sheer number over such a short period of time. You know, we've had, over the last couple of years, especially in Brooklyn - there's been consistency of anti-Semitic assaults. But there's been periods of time where the community can reset themselves. We have not seen that in the last two years. Now to see them happening almost on a minute-to-minute basis - it's at a level that I have not seen in over six years of dealing with this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We're going to play a clip now from a video that was taken at a synagogue right after the attack. The rabbi and his followers actually kept celebrating Hanukkah. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in non-English language).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can you explain what's happening?

BERNSTEIN: Well, they're singing Hanukkah tunes right now. I was fortunate enough to be able to see the rabbi and actually be in the synagogue as they were continuing with their Hanukkah services last night. And it was a sight to behold to see them not letting this hate, you know, impede their ability to celebrate, you know, one of the oldest Jewish holidays and important Jewish holidays. And I think that, you know, this is - you know, what Jews have to do right now is be as resilient as possible in the face of, you know, horrific attacks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Evan Bernstein is regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. Thank you very much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.