In Brooklyn, Jewish group tries face-to-face approach to fight anti-Semitism

(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – On Sunday, December 26, in Brooklyn’s Bay Ridge neighborhood, 21-year-old Blake Zavadsky was walking down the street with his friend Ilan Kaganovich when he was punched, apparently because that he was wearing an Israeli army sweatshirt. “He called us ‘dirty Jews’ and that’s all I remember, ”Zavadsky said of his attacker, in an interview with CBSNewYork.

In the aftermath of the incident, dozens of people took part in a solidarity march the following Sunday in the nearby neighborhood of Bensonhurst, led by newly elected Republican city councilor Inna Vernikov. (The rally was moved from Bay Ridge “out of respect for the large Palestinian and Muslim population in the neighborhood,” Vernikov spokesman Tova Chatzinoff-Rosenfeld told the Brooklyn Paperalthough it still attracts counter-protesters from pro-Palestinian groups.)

Local and state politicians, including New York Governor Kathy Hochul, exposed the crime by tweets and statements, and New York State Police have launched an investigation. The New York / New Jersey Anti-Defamation League offered a $ 5,000 reward to obtain information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual responsible for the attack.

It’s a familiar pattern following the anti-Semitic incidents that occur in double digits every month in New York City: an act of hatred occurs, followed by a call for Jewish communities to come together in solidarity and protection. Politicians are joining the cause, either by walking with their feet or by speaking out against anti-Semitism on social media.

But one group, Progressive Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, is trying a different approach. In Bay Ridge on Sunday, as other Jews demonstrated, JFREJ canvassers dispersed around the neighborhood, offering passersby advice on how to intervene when they see a hate crime and engage in hate crimes. conversations with the aim of dispelling any future racist or anti-Semitic incidents.

“The organizers of the march were cynically exploiting a recent attack,” Sophie Ellman-Golan said, JFREJ’s director of strategic communications, on Sunday’s rally. “For us, we are taking action that we regularly take because we take hate crimes seriously. “

(Vernikov’s office did not respond to New York Jewish Week’s request for comment.)

Tuesday, following another anti-Semitic attack – a Hasidic was beaten with sticks Sunday night in the Broadway Triangle neighborhood of Williamsburg – the JFREJ canvassers were back at work.

From a central meeting point outside of a community refrigerator on Broadway and Whipple Street in Williamsburg, groups of two and three split up in all directions to interact with community members.

Newly elected city council members Chi Ossé and Lincoln Restler joined the effort. Their two neighborhoods include the Bed-Stuy and North Crown Heights neighborhoods, as well as neighborhoods along Brooklyn’s waterfront, such as Greenpoint, South Williamsburg, Brooklyn Navy Yard, and Brooklyn Heights.

“I can’t wait to share how we can be better people and citizens,” said Ossé, 23, from Brooklyn. “Spread the love, it’s Brooklyn style.”

“This type of response – where we come together, where we educate our neighbors so that we all protect each other from each other and we all stop this violence together – this is how we can transform our community,” Restler said. .

Marches and rallies like the one held on Sunday, Ellman-Golan said, can be inflammatory or divisive. “They fuel division and fear among Jewish, Arab and Muslim New Yorkers,” she said. In contrast, JFREJ’s goal is to bring together diverse stakeholders from each community in New York City to promote safety, neighborhood response, and mutual respect.

“We will never stop our exit from anti-Semitism – this is a failed approach,” said Ellman-Golan. “We fundamentally believe in the idea that our communities are the most effective way to fight hate violence and issues like anti-Semitism. ”

Facing the freezing cold on Tuesday, a dozen JFREJ members led the community safety solicitation in Williamsburg, in partnership with community groups Los Sures and Wick Against Violence, Latino-led organizations advocating for affordable housing and efforts. fight against violence.

After a brief explanation of what bystander intervention means to the community, participants were given stacks of leaflets with tips and graphics on how to intervene.

the tips include a direct response approach, which involves confronting the aggressor before or during the attack and delegating other bystanders to call emergency personnel or help with the confrontation. Other tips include distracting the attacker by asking for directions. The leaflets also encourage registering with victims after the attack, even if one of them is unable to intervene.

The same advice is also endorsed by the city’s Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, which launched in 2019. Similar training is offered by the Center for Anti-Violence Education, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit organization. .

Tackling anti-Semitism – and anti-violence work, in general – requires a range of tactics, said Restler, the city councilor. Social media campaigns and solidarity walks are important work, he said, but they don’t reach all groups in a community. Plus, he added, gatherings and social media posts are responsive. In contrast, educating community members with tangible and practical guidance on bystander intervention can help defuse potential future situations of violence.

“There is a deep feeling of isolation [within communities] after an attack, ”Restler told New York Jewish Week. “Being here in the neighborhood, talking to people on the streets and offering support and advice is one of the most powerful signals to show that they are not alone.”

The atmosphere was light and friendly as JFREJ members handed out flyers at the Lorimer Street entrance of the J train, at street corners and in front of the Food Bazaar supermarket on Broadway. Many pedestrians passed at full speed, but dozens were seen walking the streets with the yellow leaflets, reading them and stuffing them in their bags.

Community service, explained Ellman-Golan, is like “being on the subway and getting someone’s attention and you know you both think the same thing. He’s a stranger, but there are little moments when you know you’re together, that you’re experiencing something together, and that it’s that warm sense of community.

“Foreigners are neighbors in New York too,” she continued. “If people find this meaningful, we can actually translate it into genuinely caring for each other and making our communities places where people are not hurt and ignored. I just think there is a better way. It takes funding and support, certainly political support, but it’s really significant.

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