(NEW YORK) Barely out of the synagogue of the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights, in Brooklyn, where he stopped to pray, Levi Jacobson runs into two black teenagers. Inspired by an idea he has been cooking for a few days, he offers them to participate in a video to fight anti-Semitism.
" Why not ? Said one of the youths, stopping in the middle of a sidewalk teeming with ultra-Orthodox Jews shopping a few hours before the start of the Sabbath.
And Levi Jacobson to start talking to them about the Seven Laws of Noah, whose observation by any non-Jew makes him a virtuous gentile according to Judaism.
"First law: believe in God," says the insurance broker, using his mobile phone to film this meeting, which he later plans to broadcast on the internet.
Later, to the representative of The Press who attended the scene by chance, he will say, "In martial arts, it is taught that the best time to attack comes right after an attack from the opponent. So I think this is the best time to tackle anti-Semitism. "
Levi Jacobson is not the only New Yorker of this opinion.
Thousands of his fellow citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish, crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday to protest against recent attacks that have targeted ultra-Orthodox Jews in the New York area.
Not without reason, national and international media focused their attention on the December 28 knife attack on the home of a rabbi near New York, which left five people injured. Attack following a December 10 shootout in a Kosher grocery store in Jersey City, which left four people dead.
But these acts of violence were added to a long series of verbal or physical assaults for which Jews in New York's Hasidic communities have been paying the price for several months.
In 2019, New York police identified 421 hate crimes, more than half of which targeted Jews. Last August, for example, a sixty-something-year-old from the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights was hit in the face with a brick. He suffered a broken nose and lost teeth.
Last November, an ultra-Orthodox Jew from Borough Park and her child were the target of an egg throwing orchestrated by three teenagers from this district of Brooklyn. On Christmas Eve, another ultra-Orthodox Jew from Crown Heights was assaulted by seven youths, who punched him in the face after throwing him a folding chair in the head.
In most of these cases, the attackers were from African-American or Caribbean communities living in the neighborhoods of Brooklyn where the ultra-Orthodox Jews of New York are concentrated.
In the aftermath of the December 28 stabbing attack, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio denounced a "crisis" and "a growing problem of anti-Semitism in the United States". But Gilford Monrose, pastor of a black Brooklyn church, is reluctant to link this problem to the assaults suffered by ultra-Orthodox Jews in the borough.
People commit their crimes where they live. In some cases, we are dealing with people who suffer from mental problems. In other cases, we have young people who do not understand the meaning or the weight of their actions. Unfortunately, members of the Jewish community are paying the price. But they are not the only ones.
Pastor Gilford Monrose
Ken Stern, an anti-Semitism expert, does not want to "miss the forest to see only the tree" and make the blacks of Brooklyn take responsibility for a problem that goes far beyond their community.
"We live in a time when the leaders of the United States are trying to divide the country based on race, migration status, religion, and so on. In this environment, where we hammer that there is 'them' against 'us', it is inevitable that anti-Semitic ideas will rise to the surface, "says the specialist, who now heads the Center for the Study of hatred of Bard College in New York State.
"People get used to it"
And this "them" versus "us" mentality can target both Jews and non-Jews, said Ken Stern. He drew a parallel between the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue in October 2018 and the shooting at a Walmart in El Paso last August.
"If you look at the ideology that inspired the killer of Walmart and that of the Pittsburgh synagogue, there is almost no difference," says Ken Stern. When this type of rhetoric becomes common, people get used to it. "
Except those against whom this hatred is directed.
"I am part of an internet discussion group, and this is THE topic everyone is talking about," said Meir Wilenkin, a member of the Lubavitch community of Crown Heights. People express a mixture of fear and anger. Some even speak of arming to defend themselves. For my part, I worry about my safety in certain situations only. If I walk on the sidewalk late at night, I’m more alert, more aware of my surroundings than I was before. During the day, not really. "
"It is not a surprise in the context of the story with a capital H," he adds, referring to recent anti-Semitic attacks. But in the context of more recent history, this is new. "
Meir Wilenkin, 26, was born after the Crown Heights riots that led to the death of a Jewish student in August 1991. Almost 30 years later, relations between Jewish community leaders have improved significantly and black from Brooklyn. On the street, where the police presence is increased these days, it is another story.