As antisemitism rises in New York, local politicians share tools to fight it

New York City saw nearly three times as many antisemitic hate crimes in January 2022 compared to the same period a year ago.

 NYC Council member Julie Menin organized a town hall on Feb. 9, 2022, in response to a three-fold rise in antisemitic incidents in January 2022 compared to January 2021. (photo credit: screenshot)
NYC Council member Julie Menin organized a town hall on Feb. 9, 2022, in response to a three-fold rise in antisemitic incidents in January 2022 compared to January 2021.
(photo credit: screenshot)

New York City saw nearly three times as many antisemitic hate crimes in January 2022 compared to the same period a year ago, prompting concern from local lawmakers.

City Council member Julie Menin, who represents the Upper East Side, hosted a virtual “Antisemitism Town Hall” Wednesday night that featured remarks by Sen. Charles Schumer and fellow Council member Eric Dinowitz.

The event, co-hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, drew some 200 attendees and brought together politicians and representatives from Jewish organizations and the NYPD to discuss how to quell antisemitism.

The NYPD hate crimes unit reported 22 hate crimes against Jewish people last month, compared to eight in the same time period last year.

Just this past weekend, there were three alleged antisemitic attacks in Williamsburg. They included an assault on a man wearing Hasidic garb and a graffiti attack on yeshiva school buses.

Residents of Hasidic Williamsburg have largely returned to pre-pandemic life, as seen on Sept. 29, 2020.  (credit: DANIEL MORITZ-RABSON)Residents of Hasidic Williamsburg have largely returned to pre-pandemic life, as seen on Sept. 29, 2020. (credit: DANIEL MORITZ-RABSON)

Residents in Menin’s district were also unsettled when, in early January, a woman found a swastika stamped on a $100 bill dispensed by a Chase Bank ATM on 86th Street. The next day, the Second Avenue comedy club Comic Strip Live compared vaccine mandates to the Holocaust in an Instagram post.

Menin — who last night noted her personal connection to the issue as the daughter and granddaughter of Holocaust survivors — condemned all of the recent events.

Senate Majority Leader Schumer— who recently spoke at a confirmation hearing supporting scholar Deborah Lipstadt as the US State Department’s antisemitism monitor — provided opening remarks at the town hall and also spoke of relatives he lost in the Holocaust. Schumer called for doubling funding for the federal Non-Profit Security Grant program from $180 million to $360 million. He noted that about a quarter of that funding goes to New York to harden security at religious institutions and other nonprofits.

“It’s our collective responsibility to call out antisemitism whenever it rears its ugly head,” he said. “We know what happens when antisemitism is not fought and fought and fought.”

Dinowitz, whose district covers the northwest Bronx, emphasized that antisemitic incidents are not always violent attacks — often, they appear as implicit biases or remarks in daily life. He chairs the council’s Jewish Caucus.

Panelists spoke of the different tools available to New Yorkers to combat antisemitism, including reporting crimes to the police, filing civil lawsuits, attending bias and intervention trainings, establishing strong security measures in Jewish spaces, and more.

Inspector Jessica Corey, the commanding officer for the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, and Inspector Melissa Eger of the 19th precinct on the Upper East Side spoke about how and when to contact law enforcement when witnessing a hate crime. They emphasized that while social media can be effective, witnesses should call 911 to report a crime, using physical identifiers and as many specifics of the incident as possible.

Rick Sawyer, the special counsel on hate crimes for the state Attorney General, explained the type of civil lawsuits that his office can pursue against implicit bias and discrimination. Jonah Boyarin, the Jewish liaison for the NYC Commission on Human Rights, noted the different workshops his office can provide, such as bystander intervention training.

Other panelists included Mitch Silber, executive director of the Community Security Initiative, and Alexander Rosemberg, the deputy regional director of the NY/NJ branch of the Anti-Defamation League.

“By reporting, you drive data, which drives policy,” said Rosemberg. “This is how you can affect change.”

Michael Cohen, the eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, spoke of his organization’s role in educating children about antisemitism and tolerance. He lauded the center’s newest educational initiative, the Mobile Museum of Tolerance, which will visit schools across the state. Last month the state Assembly announced $1.5 million in capital funding for the mobile museum.