(photo credit: AP)
A man wielding an aluminum baseball bat attacked an Orthodox rabbi walking to synagogue, critically wounding the 53-year-old man and threatening to strain the already tense ethnic relations in a New Jersey city, officials and residents said.
The beating of Mordechai Moskowitz, reportedly at the hands of a black man, has put residents on edge in Lakewood, a diverse city of 70,000 near the Jersey Shore that is home to a large Orthodox Jewish population, as well as black and Hispanic communities.
An Orthodox Jewish middle school teacher was found not guilty this summer of assaulting a black teenager. And a few weeks ago, a group of Orthodox Jews was pelted with eggs by teenagers from another town, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Authorities have arrested no one and have no motive in the beating of the rabbi, police Lt. Joseph Isnardi said.
"There's a very, very strong feeling of revulsion and horror that this attack happened here," said Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, who belongs to the council of local Jewish leaders.
Witnesses told police they saw a black man walk by Moskowitz and without saying a word turn on the rabbi, beating him in the head and body with the baseball bat. Moskowitz remained in critical condition Thursday, his face disfigured.
Lakewood has seen large growth in its Orthodox Jewish and Hispanic communities, while the black population has shrunk, officials said.
"We have a very large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. And we get our share of spray painting, people riding down the road yelling epithets - all kinds of different things like that," Isnardi said.
Some Jewish residents said Thursday they feared the latest attack would exacerbate long-standing tensions between ethnic groups in the town.
Abraham Sasson, 15, was with a friend who quickly pulled out a flier critical of the police department's handling of safety. Sasson recounted how a woman at an area store had asked him the night before to walk her to her car only about 100 feet (30 meters) from the store.
"She was very scared to walk out by herself.
That's part of the reaction of the township against the horrifying attack that took place two days ago," Sasson said.
As he pushed a stroller with his son down the street, 25-year-old Alexander Spira said residents were horrified. But he also noted there were places in the world that are less safe.
"People are going to Israel, where people are blowing up buses," Spira said.