NEW YORK (JTA) — The number of hate crimes against Jews in New York City has risen significantly over the first nine months of this year, part of a citywide rise in such offenses.
The New York Police Department has reported 311 total hate crimes through September, as opposed to 250 reported through the same period in 2018, according to Deputy Inspector Mark Molinari, who heads the department’s Hate Crimes Task Force.
Molinari said 52 percent of the reported hate crimes, or 163, have targeted Jews. Over the same period last year, the NYPD reported 108 anti-Semitic hate crimes.
At a meeting Thursday with Jewish philanthropists, Molinari discussed the numbers and how to prevent anti-Semitic crimes in the city. He recounted a list of anti-Jewish hate crimes that had made the news just this week:
* Two Jewish men had their hats knocked off by a group of teens.
* A separate group of children broke the windows of a Brooklyn synagogue during the Rosh Hashanah holiday.
* Also during the holiday, a third group of kids harassed a Jewish woman, pulling off her scarf and wig.
“Although the proximity is ridiculously close, those are not the same three groups of children,” he said. “I would love if one person in New York City committed all of my 311 hate crimes and I could lock up one person and make it go away. For the most part I’m dealing with 311 random individuals of very diverse backgrounds committing these hate crimes against different people.”
That’s the challenge facing the city as it tries to stem a rising tide of hate in its precincts — much of it directed against Jews. Molinari said the criminal behavior doesn’t appear to be coming from members of high-profile extremist hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan or the far-right marchers who demonstrated two years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The national narrative is not the narrative we see here in New York City,” Molinari said.” There aren’t roving bands of white supremacists, from khakis and tiki torches to hood-wearing people.”
He added later, “Political ideology, religious ideology, we do not see that happen here in New York.”
Molinari was speaking to a group of donors to the UJA-Federation of New York, an umbrella communal organization. Appearing alongside him was Deborah Lauter, who was hired recently to head the city’s new Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes following a career at the Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish organizations.
Lauter stressed that one of the keys to preventing hate crimes, especially among kids of different backgrounds, is education and long-term partnerships between religious and ethnic communities.
“The Jewish community at one point started withdrawing from its community relations agenda,” she said. “We’re feeling the repercussions now. This is hard work. You’ve got to do the long game on addressing these problems.”
At the event, UJA-Federation announced that it was doing just that as part of a set of new initiatives to combat anti-Semitism in America’s Jewish metropolis. Together with the local Jewish Community Relations Council, UJA is investing $4 million over two years in physical security upgrades for 2,000 Jewish institutions.
It’s hiring six directors who will collectively coordinate communal security for Jews in the city’s five boroughs, as well as suburban Long Island and Westchester County, and a special coordinator for the area’s Jewish summer camps. The federation is also establishing a community relations security committee to work with other ethnic and minority communities.
“Our hope is that this strategic investment will allow Jews across the region and people of all faiths to feel welcome in our institutions, secure in our communal spaces and generally safe,” said Alisa Doctoroff, UJA-Federation’s past president. “We need to be there for other people, for other communities, if we expect them to be there for us.”
Molinari had some good news: Hate crimes in September had declined compared to September 2018 after rising over the course of 2019 overall.
According to Molinari, 87 percent of the anti-Semitic hate crimes this year have been what he called “criminal mischief,” generally vandalism involving the drawing of swastikas. The remaining 13 percent were person-to-person crimes, such as assaults. In order to be classified as a hate crime, an anti-Semitic incident needs to be an actual crime, as opposed to someone yelling an offensive phrase.
But Lauter said age also was a factor in the swastika graffiti. Some of the vandals, she said, are teenagers who don’t know the symbolism and anti-Semitic history of the swastika. She called for Holocaust education in schools to illustrate that the Nazi symbol is more than a provocative sign.
“The kids who are doing the swastika incidents don’t know from what a swastika is,” Lauter said. “That’s precisely the kind of thing that I want to look at. You need to make a statement. Kids don’t know from hate crimes.”