Despite suffering from poor health for several months, Yosef Neumann, 72, tried to fight off an assailant who attacked him and four others with a machete in a Monsey synagogue during Hanukkah. Neumann, who is currently in critical condition, is known by many as an impressive scholar and a persistent collector of tzedakah (charity) for the poor.
Neumann was born in northern Hungary soon after the Holocaust. He and his parents managed to escape the country into Austria during a short-lived revolution in 1956, according to Chabad.org.
The scholar lived in the lower level of the complex where the synagogue where the attack took place was located. A close friend stated that Neumann never kept a penny for himself and would go through “a lot of effort to take care of ‘his families,’ people everyone else overlooked.” The money he collected benefited poor families in Israel.
Neumann surrounded himself with Torah learning and at Sabbath meals he would usually have six or seven religious texts on the table. His brother-in-law, Yisroel Kraus, described him as “everyone’s uncle.”
“He knew about everything and taught us little-known aspects of Torah, which are not widely taught in yeshivah (Jewish religious school),” said Kraus. “To us, he has always been someone special. He lived and breathed Hassidut, a glimpse into a past generation.”
"Doctors are not optimistic about his chances to regain consciousness, and if our father does miraculously recover partially, doctors expect that he will have permanent damage to the brain; leaving him partially paralyzed and speech-impaired for the rest of his life," Neumann's family wrote in a statement released by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council (OJPAC) on Wednesday.
Neumann’s family asks that people pray for the health of Yosef ben (son of) Perel. Chabad centers in Rockland County are currently raising money for victims of the attack, to help with living expenses and transportation to and from the hospital. Donations can be made at HelpMonseyVictims.com.
The synagogue in Monsey represented the Kosson Hassidic group, a group that has a long history battling antisemitism. Rabbi Yisrael Tzvi Rottenberg, one of the leaders of the Kosson dynasty, sheltered over 40 Jews in his home in Hungary during the Holocaust until he was taken to the Beregszasz Ghetto and eventually Auschwitz where he and his family were killed. His nephew, Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Rottenberg, moved to America before the war and continued the dynasty, according to Hamodia.
Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg, the rabbi of the synagogue that was attacked, is the great-grandson of Moshe Shmuel. His father, Rabbi Pinchos Shulem, was constantly tormented by people who would taunt him and try to rip out his peyos (sidelocks) while he traveled on the subway from the Bronx to Williamsburg.
Grafton Thomas, 37, the assailant who carried out the stabbing attack in Monsey, was born in Crown Heights, where many Lubavtich (Chabad) Jews live. According to his mother, Kim, Thomas was a Sabbath goy, a non-Jew who helps Jewish people with tasks they can’t do because of Sabbath restrictions, according to the New York Post.
Several longtime Jewish residents of the block where Thomas grew up claim that they didn’t remember him as a neighbor, according to the New York Post.
Thomas broke into the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg and stabbed five people during a Hanukkah celebration last week. Neumann is the only one of the five who is still in hospital, the other four have been released.
Federal prosecutors filed hate crimes charges against Thomas on Monday. FBI agent Julie Brown reported that Thomas kept journals containing antisemitic statements and Nazi references. Additionally, the FBI agent said his cell phone was used to search "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" on four separate occasions.
Reuters contributed to this report.