An Israeli yeshiva student was stabbed in the neck at the Chabad Movement’s central headquarters on Tuesday.
The victim, Levi Rosenblat, 22, from Betar Illit, was in critical condition but conscious. A policeman shot and killed the attacker.
The attack occurred at around 1:30 a.m. at 770 Eastern Parkway in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. The building, which houses a synagogue and study hall, serves as the headquarters of the Chabad Hassidic movement and attracts visitors from around the world.
The attacker, Calvin Peters, a 49-yearold African-American man, entered the building on Monday evening and, according to witnesses, asked for a book. He was escorted out by security, but then returned and took out a switchblade, menacing a group of students before stabbing Rosenblat.
Another witness, an Israeli who said he had served in the IDF, told reporters someone threw a book at Peters during the attack and almost everyone in the room began running.
“He [Rosenblat] was stabbed in the side of the head. He was conscious, but he was bleeding a lot,” one witness told the New York Daily News.
Rosenblat ran outside and was treated by Hatzalah emergency medical personnel before being taken to Kings County Hospital.
Police arrived almost immediately and confronted Peters inside the building. He dropped the knife but picked it up as one of the policemen approached, causing the officer to open fire, hitting him in the chest. He later died of his wounds.
Peters had a “history of being an emotionally disturbed person and acting out,” the NYPD said.
In a video of the incident posted on social media, yeshiva students at the Chabad headquarters can be heard asking that the police not shoot Peters.
“Hey officer, he won’t do it,” one hassid says in a thick Israeli accent.
Community news outlets and witnesses described the attack as anti-Semitic in nature. A witness who was in the synagogue and told reporters that he was “very close” to the Peters with he began attacking, said that he heard Peters shout several times, “I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill Jews!” But Patrick Conry, chief of Brooklyn detectives, later said, “He may have said words to the effect of, ‘I will kill all of you.’ We’re still interviewing witnesses.”
Another witness said Peters then cornered Rosenblat and stabbed him in the face three to four times. Rosenblat started screaming “Save me!” Later Tuesday morning at a kosher cafe across from the synagogue, people were clamoring for details, showing one another videos of the incident, asking who knew what, and trading epitaphs about how shocked they were. The atmosphere was charged and stressed as people assured one another that everything was okay.
Rabbi Mendy Turen, 23, a friend of Rosenblat and a student at the same yeshiva in Israel that Rosenblat attended, the Yeshiva Gadola of Chabad in Safed, said that Rosenblat had studied at the Chabad Yeshiva in Crown Heights two years ago, for one year, and had returned around the High Holy Days in September to do study there some more. Turen and Yosef Herskhop, 23, also alumnus of the Safed yeshiva, said Rosenblat was one of the few Israelis who tried to bridge the gap between the Americans and the Israelis. “You know the Americans and the Israelis – they’re friendly but separate,” Turen said.
Rosenblat is “a legitimate real scholar,” Hershkop said.
“Normally we finish studying at 10 or 11,” Turen said. “And it was past 1 a.m. when he was still studying, that’s why he was still in the synagogue. He’s a kind person, very sweet, and very learned.”
“Everyone is just shocked,” said Hershkop.
“We haven’t had an attack here in years. Never in a synagogue. But this was not a mugging gone bad or someone who was drunk. This was a demon, almost.”
Rabbi Motti Seligsman, a spokesman for the Chabad movement, said: “While we are very pained by everything that has unfolded, we are very grateful to the police for their quick response and are working closely with the authorities in their ongoing investigation. We commend the heroic efforts of the individuals who were present and took immediate action; if not for their intervention the outcome could have been, God forbid far worse. We continue to pray for the young man who is in stable condition.”
Before Monday, the most recent high profile attack to occur in New York was an assault against an Orthodox couple on Manhattan’s Upper East Side on August 25 that was apparently triggered by Israel’s war with Hamas in the Gaza strip.
Crown Heights has largely been calm since August 1991, when racial tensions between black and Jewish residents reached a breaking point and riots broke out over the death of a child hit by a car driven by a hassid. During the three days of violence by blacks that followed, neighborhood stores were looted, a number of Jews were wounded and visiting Australian university student Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed to death.
Since then, said Hershkop, a lifelong resident of Crown Heights, relations between the communities have been stable. “It’s better than it’s ever been. Crime is still high, but this guy wasn’t from here,” he said. “This [attack] has nothing to do with anything here.”
Tuesday’s attack prompted calls for Israeli action, with MK Yoel Razbozov, chairman of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee, saying that “the policies of the Israeli government fail to stop the attacks against the Jews of the Diaspora.
“As a Jewish state, we have to ensure that the Jews of the Diaspora will be able to live in their country without fear... Therefore I urge the prime minister and the minister of Diaspora to act in every way at their disposal to stop the strengthening of anti-Semitism, and to prevent such incidents repeat themselves,” he said.
Despite such sentiments, however, a spokesman for Chabad in Israel told CNN that “most likely it is not a hate crime.”
“The assailant was not amok. He stabbed one person, with an ordinary kitchen knife, although he could have attacked many more people who were there,” the spokesman said.