Victim of NYC antisemitic attack: 'I am proud of who I am'

The IDF Shirt Challenge launches in support of victims of antisemitic attacks, Israel and the IDF.

 Blake Zavadsky in his IDF hoodie after being attacked on Sunday. (photo credit: COURTESY OF BLAKE ZAVADSKY)
Blake Zavadsky in his IDF hoodie after being attacked on Sunday.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF BLAKE ZAVADSKY)

Blake Zavadsky and Ilan Kaganovich, the victims of an antisemitic attack in Brooklyn on Sunday, said that the attack will not stop them from showing their support for Israel and the IDF.

The two were approached by two attackers while Zavadsky was wearing an IDF hoodie. One of the perpetrators told him, after asking if they “support those dirty Jews,” he had to remove it or he would get hurt.

When Zavadsky refused to take off the hoodie, the attacker punched him twice before pouring his ice coffee on the hoodie. Meanwhile, the attacker’s friend told Kaganovich, who was trying to stop the attacker, that if he got involved he would get hurt too.

The attack is under investigation by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, which is trying to identify the attacker and apprehend him.

The two victims agreed that the attack had not scared them into not wearing clothes that identify them as Jewish in public.

PRO-ISRAEL DEMONSTRATORS attend a rally denouncing antisemitism and antisemitic attacks, in Manhattan, last month.  (credit: ED JONES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES/TNS)PRO-ISRAEL DEMONSTRATORS attend a rally denouncing antisemitism and antisemitic attacks, in Manhattan, last month. (credit: ED JONES/AFP/GETTY IMAGES/TNS)

“I am still going to wear this sweatshirt,” said Zavadsky. “We should be able to wear whatever we want and believe in whatever we believe in. I am proud of who I am... I’m still in shock,” he added, still sporting a black eye three days later.

“My parents left the Soviet Union when they were seven or eight because of this kind of thing. My grandparents brought them to the US for a better life. It’s 2021, soon to be 2022, how can this still be happening? What kind of world do we live in?”

Kaganovich’s parents also came to the US from the Soviet Union when they were young to escape antisemitism. Both men said this was the first time they personally experienced such a thing, though they were aware of rising antisemitism around the world.

A challenge has been started on social media dubbed the IDF Shirt Challenge which encourages people to post photos of themselves wearing IDF shirts in solidarity with Zavadsky.

The challenge has been taken up by a variety of public figures, including Disturbed lead singer David Draiman, who posted his own photo on Instagram, writing that he stands in solidarity with Zavadsky and Kaganovich. “We will not be intimidated,” he wrote.

“Jews are being attacked on the streets of the major cities of the United States on a regular basis right now, but it almost seems like a near-daily occurrence in New York,” Draiman told The Jerusalem Post. “I was born in Brooklyn where those two young gentlemen were attacked, in Maimonides hospital in Flatbush. My father was in the IDF, my grandfather was in the IDF. They helped keep Am Yisrael safe, as the IDF does to this day. They keep the thousands of direct and indirect relatives I have in Eretz Yisrael safe and risk their lives to do so every day.

“I will not stand idle while they are demonized, and I will not be silent in the face of those who long for us to go back to the days of being the ‘fearful, groveling Jew.’

Arizona State Legislature Rep. Alma Hernandez tweeted a photo of herself wearing an IDF hoodie. “Wearing the IDF hoodie truly is a symbol of resilience and pride,” she said. “It reminds me of all the brave men and women who have served so that Jews everywhere can continue to have a Jewish homeland. I’m proud to stand in support of the IDF because without them, there would be no Israel.”

The challenge, promoted by StandWithUs, has received negative attention from anti-Zionists such as Nerdeen Kiswani, who went viral last year for threatening to set fire to someone wearing an IDF sweatshirt. She reposted the video, which almost got her removed from law school, calling it “the original IDF Shirt Challenge” in the caption. The post has since been deleted again.

"We are proud to be giving a stage to so many people around the world who have sent photos of themselves respecting and paying tribute to the IDF. No-one should ever face abuse or violence for wearing an IDF shirt and our message is clear: we will not be intimidated by antisemitic bullies,” said Michael Dickson, executive director of SandWithUs Israel.

Kaganovich said that following the attack, they received tremendous help and support from New York’s 48th District Councilwoman Inna Vernikov.

On Wednesday night, Vernikov tweeted a call to march against antisemitism. The march will take place on Sunday at noon and will begin at the spot on 86th Street where the two men were attacked. People are encouraged to show up in their own IDF hoodies.

“I wish I could fly out there myself,” Draiman said. “I encourage everyone to mask up and get out there with their IDF t-shirts on. Or, just post a pic of yourself for the #IDFshirtChallenge to your social media.”

Michael Starr contributed to this report.