Dec 30, 2019

Jews are under fire in New York City.

Jews are under fire in New York City.

Plus, what you missed over the holidays.

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Today’s read: 8 minutes.

I’m covering the anti-Semitic attacks in New York and what we do now. Also, there is no reader question today — instead, an update on all the news you missed over the break.

A group of armed Orthodox Jews after the attack in Monsey, NJ. Photo: Breaking 911 Feed | Twitter

What D.C. is talking about.

The threat to Jews. On Saturday night, during the seventh night of Hanukkah, a man walked into a Rabbi’s home and stabbed five people with a machete. One person is still in critical condition. The attack occurred in Monsey, New York, a town about 35 miles outside New York City with a large population of ultra-Orthodox Jews. But it’s part of a much larger, frightening trend: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted it was the 13th anti-Semitic incident in New York City and the surrounding areas in the last few weeks. In Jersey City, New Jersey, which is just a short train ride from Manhattan, a kosher market was shot up earlier this month. There was a separate stabbing in Monsey last month. Every week, if not every day, there are reports of Orthodox Jews being physically attacked in Brooklyn and Manhattan. It’s all part of increased anti-Semitism across the U.S. over the last two years.

What the left is saying.

It depends which left. Everyone is expressing their sorrow, prayers and concern for the injured and for the Jews who are under the thumb of anti-Semitism. But there’s a lot of political point-scoring going around. Some people have used the latest attack as another way to go after Trump, who has repeatedly trafficked in anti-Semitic tropes and who spent Sunday morning tweeting about Nancy Pelosi while other politicians were expressing their prayers and concern for New York’s Jewish community. Rep. Eric Swalwell said anti-Semitism was being “stoked” by Trump, who won’t condemn it, and Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who recently said he was “more Jewish” than George Soros, the major Democratic donor and Holocaust survivor. Just days before the Monsey stabbings, after nearly two years of near-constant anti-Semitic attacks in Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced there would be an increased police presence in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods (which typically have lots of people of color, too). Many on the left, including David Klion, reacted by expressing concern that there’d be more cops in minority neighborhoods in a city where the police have often discriminated against those groups. After the attacks in Monsey, a lot of Jews on the left condemned the attacks while simultaneously expressing hope that anyone who appeared different outwardly could live in safety, including trans folks and people of color.

What the right is saying.

This is a crisis, and we need to do something drastic about it. Few people have been more outspoken about anti-Semitism in New York City than Seth Mandel, an Orthodox Jew who is also the executive editor of the conservative paper The Washington Examiner. I think his views are a good representation of a lot of folks on the right. Mandel has been critical of politicians on the left for ignoring anti-Semitism in its own ranks, he’s criticized Trump for anti-Semitic tropes, and he’s criticized Mayor de Blasio for not doing anything to protect Orthodox Jews in New York City. Mandel, like many conservatives, has encouraged New York City to allow Jews to conceal carry because of how big the threat is. He’s also encouraged Jews outside New York City to arm themselves, and encouragingly shared an image of Rockland County Jews (where Monsey is) walking the streets with rifles after the stabbings on Saturday.

But Mandel, like many on the right, has also taken that criticism to the media. He believes the “de-humanization” of the Orthodox Jewish community has contributed to the anti-Semitic attacks and has excoriated the media for not naming the elephant in the room: that many of the attackers in New York City have been black or Hispanic.

My take.

I feel like this is the second or third time I’ve written about a “Jewish issue” in Tangle, and it never seems to be a pleasurable experience when I do. I’ll start with the necessary disclosure and a note about me, as I feel I can offer a unique perspective here: I’m a Jew. I was raised in a reformed household but have become more observant as I got older, though I’m nothing close to Orthodox. Still, I’ve lived in Jerusalem and studied in a yeshiva. I probably identify more with my Jewishness than most American Jews. And I live in Brooklyn where so many of these attacks are happening. I have friends here and back in Israel who are part of the Orthodox Jewish community. But I also have a lot of personal politics that are to the left.

In a word, I am heartbroken.

For everyone: People don’t totally understand how bad this problem is. Reports of anti-Semitism and physical attacks on Jews in New York are a weekly occurrence now. It is a crisis. This morning, I spoke to New York City Council member Mark Levine, who said most New Yorkers don’t really grasp the panic gripping the Orthodox Jewish community. It is legitimately dangerous to be a Jew in the second-most Jewish place in the world (behind Israel). It’s tough to put into words how insane that is.

For my friends on the left: What a lot of you miss is that the threat to Jews in New York City is different than the threat they face in Pittsburgh or California or other places where attacks on Jews seem to be happening so often. The attacks on Jews in Brooklyn or elsewhere in New York are not being perpetrated by the white supremacists who carry out anti-Semitic attacks across the country. Frequently, the perpetrators are people of color. A lot of people have tried to explain this in various ways that can come off a lot like victim shaming. Some have noted the rapid growth of religious Jewish communities in black and Hispanic neighborhoods that creates community-level tension. Others have claimed Orthodox Jews discriminate against black New Yorkers or act as punitive landlords across the city. Even operating in a world where these generalizations were true (and there isn’t enough room in this newsletter to address these claims thoroughly), none of it would justify the random, unbridled attacks on Jews who are simply walking home from synagogue or to their next meal. In our conversation this morning, Levine pointed to mental illness and noted that many attackers — including the Monsey stabber — have reportedly suffered from mental illnesses. Still, he acknowledged that the fact Jews are often the targets of these attacks points to underlying issues of anti-Semitism in these neighborhoods.

For my friends on the right: the concern liberals have about more police in New York City neighborhoods does not make them Jew-haters or enablers of anti-Semitic attacks. The reality for men and women of color in New York City is that they have lived and continue to live in what’s essentially a police state. And the NYPD has a long and ugly history of discrimination. So when liberals express concern about more cops in neighborhoods that are black and Hispanic, those concerns are not coming from an evil place — they’re legitimate and should be heard. It’s tough to blame people of color for not trusting the NYPD.

I’ve experienced both sides of these issues firsthand. I lived in Harlem for four years, where undercover police and cops were everywhere all the time. It’s an unsettling and intrusive way to live, and it’s hard to describe what that kind of police presence is like — and the tension it creates — until you experience it. And I’m white. I’ve also had Hispanic or black neighbors curse the “damn Jews” while speaking to me, not realizing that I was a Jew. I’ve walked past the Black Hebrew Israelites preaching about destroying the white Jews on a street corner in Harlem, the same group that had ties to the shooting of a kosher market in Jersey City. I’ve heard religious people of color decry Jews and I’ve even heard non-religious Jews talk about how they “hate” the Orthodox Jewish community.

Anti-Semitism is not a black or Hispanic problem, and it’s not a Trump or white nationalist problem. It comes from all corners and is justified by all sides and pre-dates the modern “left and right” political formations we have in our minds today. I’m not sure what the solution is, but one important place I am looking to for answers is the thousands of black or Hispanic Jews living across America and in New York City who frequently get stuck in the middle of this issue. They have voices we should be elevating and listening to as we grapple with this horror. Some black Jews have noted that equating white nationalists with apolitical black teenagers and pretending both have an equal, deep-seated Jew-hatred inside them that cannot be undone is idiotic. Others have reminded me that calling on black leaders to condemn anti-Semitism ignores the many black leaders who are already doing that while also reinforcing the stereotype that black people are a mindless horde in need of leadership. I’ve also seen Jews of color point out that work is already being done to educate communities of color about Judaism and Orthodox Jews in an effort to build stronger trust between the communities, and that work can be funded and supported by us instead of building up more barriers. I hope in the weeks and months ahead that news organizations continue to give a voice to black or Hispanic Jews, to Orthodox Jews, and to the communities of color where many of these crimes are taking place.

The news you missed.

Reminder: I’m skipping the question of the day today to make sure you’re updated on all the news you missed over break. But if you have a question you want answered, simply reply to this email and write in — I’ll be responding to questions again tomorrow.
  • Michael Bloomberg’s presidential campaign was caught using prison labor to make campaign calls. The campaign had hired a third-party vendor to run a call center and help drum up support for Bloomberg that relied on inmates from a maximum-security women’s prison to make the calls on behalf of Bloomberg. The campaign acknowledged the relationship, said it was unaware the call vendor relied on prison labor to make the calls and immediately announced it was ending its relationship with the vendor when the story broke. Click.
  • Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski and James Lankford both criticized Trump over the holiday break. Sen. Murkowski said she was “disturbed” that Mitch McConnell planned to work closely with the White House during Trump’s impeachment. Sen. Lankford said he didn’t think Trump was a role model for young Americans and that he did not represent the way Lankford would be raising his kids. Still, both senators were elusive about where they stood on impeachment and each offered tepid support for Trump as well. Murkowski click. Lankford click.
  • A gunman killed two people during a church service in Texas on Sunday before being gunned down by a member of the congregation. The service was being live-streamed online and video showed the church’s security team opening fire within seconds as other members of the congregation drew firearms. “We lost two great men today,” the church’s senior minister said. “But it could have been a lot worse, and I am thankful our government has allowed us the opportunity to protect ourselves." Click.
  • The New York Times released a damning reconstruction of the 84 days surrounding the United States’ decision to freeze military aid to Ukraine. Using congressional testimony and its own reporting, The Times paints an unfavorable picture of President Trump as being “actively involved” in a scheme to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rivals and the 2016 election. Click.
  • Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon and Georgia representative, announced that he was battling Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Lewis is often called “the conscience of the House” and is one of a few representatives in Congress who maintains allies on both sides of the aisle while also remaining true to his political views. Lewis released a statement saying he was gearing up for the fight of his life. Click.
  • “The U.S. military has launched strikes on five facilities in Iraq and Syria belonging to a militia considered to be backed by Iran,” The Washington Post reported. The strikes came just two days after an American was killed during an attack on an Iraqi base. Officials worry that the attacks point to “continued unpredictability of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria” and may indicate an escalation in the region. Click.

A story that matters.

Baltimore police are getting behind a pilot program to fly three private surveillance planes over the city to monitor crime. The controversial program existed in secret in 2016, and when it was revealed a huge public outcry led to its conclusion. But now Baltimore’s police commissioner is re-launching the program, funded by two Texas billionaires, out in the open. The police claim the planes won’t offer “real-time surveillance” but instead will help officers investigate past shootings and robberies. Baltimore is the first city to pilot the program, which civil rights advocates have criticized as an invasion of privacy and a violation of rights. Click.


  • 41. The number of mass killings in the United States in 2019, the most recorded since the 1970s, according to a count compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University.
  • $1.2 trillion. The collective increase of net worth for the world’s 500 wealthiest people in 2019, adding fuel to the left’s claims that the rich are only getting richer.
  • 15.7%. The rate of extreme poverty around the world in 2010.
  • 7.7.%. The rate of extreme poverty around the world in 2019.
  • 793. The number of billionaires the world had in 2009.
  • 2,153. The number of billionaires the world has in 2019.
  • 22%. The percentage of black Americans who say their personal financial situation has gotten better over the last two years.
  • 45%. The percentage of black Americans who say they are more interested in voting in the 2020 election than the 2016 election.
  • 40%. The percentage of black Americans who say their interest has stayed the same between the 2016 and 2020 elections.
  • 4.5%. The increase in wages for the bottom 25% of workers between this November and last November.

Have a nice day.

In a New York Times op-ed by columnist Nicholas Kristof, there is a bold proclamation: 2019 was the best year ever. While 2019 had plenty of woes, Kristoff notes that “since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.” Kristoff says he hears the concerns about Trump, North Korea, climate change, and other issues that dominate the headlines — but simultaneously believes the world is better now than it’s ever been. And he has a lot of data to back it up. Click.

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