Terror In My Backyard

By Rabbi Reuven J Epstein

It didn’t seem possible. Our entire community heard about and were very saddened by the terrible events in Pittsburgh, Poway, Jersey City, and Brooklyn.  But we live here, upstate, in quiet Monsey, far away from the hustle and tensions of the big cities. It couldn’t happen here, we told ourselves.

We were wrong.

Shortly after 10 pm Saturday night, we started receiving phone calls and WhatsApp messages, telling us that the unimaginable had occurred.  One neighborhood over, in Forshay, a man with a machete entered Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home during a Chanukah party and stabbed multiple people. Fifteen people were transported to the hospital, 5 of whom were admitted to the hospital, including one who remains in very serious condition. 

A witness, Israel Kohn, described the attack, “he pushed his way in, slammed the door shut, and said ‘None of you are getting out of here. He then pulled out a machete, unsheathed it, and started doing the unspeakable”.  Another witness, Aaron Kohn, described being terrified and “running to save my life”.

As horrendous as it was, it could have been much worse. After the initial shock, the Congregants fought back with whatever they could. The assailant ran from the house to the shul (synagogue) next door, but found it locked, as the loud screams coming from the house, caused someone to lock the shul’s doors. Unable to enter, the assailant escaped in his car, and was apprehended a few hours later in Harlem, still wearing clothing that was soaked in Jewish blood.

Rabbi Rottenberg, despite his own son being among the wounded, ultimately continued the Chanukah service. He stated on Sunday that “Although we must all take the precautions that have unfortunately become basic security necessities – locking shul and school doors and having an emergency preparedness plan – we will forge forward in faith and thanks that we continue to live under G-d’s ultimate protection”.  

President Donald Trump called the attack “horrific”, stating that we “must come together to fight, confront and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism”.  White House senior adviser Ivanka Trump described the attack as “an act of pure evil”. Governor Andrew Cuomo, who visited Rabbi Rottenberg on Sunday morning, called the attack “an act of domestic terrorism”, noting that it was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York State in the past few weeks.

Ambassador Dani Dayan, Counsel General of Israel to New York, visited Rabbi Rottenberg early Sunday afternoon. In remarks that followed his visit, Ambassador Dayan spoke powerfully and emotionally about how his visits to Pittsburgh, Jersey City and now Monsey after terror attacks, and how they have been “worse than my darkest nightmares”. He described seeing “a small room in Jersey City where 53 Jewish children were hidden for 4 hours while bullets were flying all over, and they didn’t know what their fate would be”, and that this attack “has to be the last time”. 

We hope and pray that Ambassador Dayan is correct, and that there will not be any additional anti-Semitic attacks.  But if it could happen here, in this quiet suburb, it can happen anywhere.

About the Author

Rabbi Reuven J Epstein is the author of Simply Jewish: An Illustrated Get to the Point Guide to Judaism, and the Simply Jewish Haggadah.

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