Officials Address Local Anti-Semitic Incidents Ahead of Jewish Holidays

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As those of Jewish faith celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days, the incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti over Labor Day weekend still linger in the minds of many in the community. On Wednesday, September 25, at the Ohab Zedek Synagogue on Beach 134th Street, city hate crime officials and the NYPD addressed Rockaway religious leaders about the recent incidents and what is being done going forward.

Attendees at the meeting were hoping for some specific updates on the two instances of anti-Semitic graffiti in Rockaway over Labor Day weekend, one written into the sand on Beach 138th, and the other at the Silver Gull Beach Club. However, officials focused more on the broader issue of the uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes across the city and what it could mean for the recent incidents on the peninsula.

Attendees included State Senator Joseph Addabbo, representatives for both City Council Members Eric Ulrich and Donovan Richards, a representative for Assemblywoman Stacey Pheffer Amato, whose office facilitated the meeting, members of western Rockaway’s major synagogues (Ohab Zedek, West End Temple, Temple Beth-El), as well as Father Bill Sweeney of St. Francis de Sales, and members of the 100th Precinct. 

“This is a complete community effort,” Stan Eisen, president of Temple Beth-El, said.

Addressing the audience was director of the newly formed NYC Office for the Prevention of Hate Crimes, Deborah Lauter, Deputy Inspector Mark Molinari, commanding officer of the NYPD’s hate crimes task force, and Captain Louron Hall of the 100th Precinct.

“We are struggling for what is causing this,” said Director Lauter, whose office was formed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in response to the recent uptick in hate crimes across the city, including a rise in anti-Semitic incidents which are nearly doubled what the numbers were at this time last year, according to the NYPD.

Lauter, who spent 18 years with the Anti-defamation League before being appointed director just 22 days ago, discussed a “multi-pronged” approach to preventing hate crimes in New York City which includes pushing law enforcement tactics, community relations, and education. “I am an optimist,” she said.

Deputy Inspector Molinari addressed the NYPD’s role in combating hate crimes and investigating them after they occur. “The NYPD takes hate crimes very seriously,” he said, discussing how department procedures place priority on possible hate crimes, where an NYPD executive officer must be present on every investigation.

Molinari could not comment on any specifics in the investigation of the Rockaway incidents because the Silver Gull vandalism occurred on federal land, so it does not fall within the NYPD’s jurisdiction, and the beach writing does not constitute a crime under city law. Although he couldn't go into the details, D.I. Molinari was able to stipulate to what the Rockaway incidents could mean, taking into account his experience investigating similar cases. “Could be any of a lot of things,” he told The Rockaway Times. Both he and Director Lauter alluded to the idea of “just kids,” who do not actually subscribe to the values they are promoting and instead are just playing around. “Motivation behind this varies,” D.I. Molinari said. The commonality of children perpetrating such incidences is something Lauter hopes to combat with her approach to the prevention of hate crimes. She mentioned, “Education...teaching kids to respect others,” as a large facet of her plan. Molinari agreed, later in the night telling the audience, “We have to start with children. Counteract the narrative they may be hearing at the dinner table.”  

However, the severity of the language used in both events, as well as the use of “14/88” on the beach could mean something more than just children who are unaware. “14/88” is a lesser known symbol of white supremacist speech, which signifies the 14 words of a supremacist slogan along with “88”, which references “Heil Hitler” (H being the eighth letter of the alphabet). “Usually that’s an indicator that it’s more,” Director Lauter said, but added that its use has become more and more escalated and does not definitively prove that the perpetrators are aware of the numbers' significance.

Molinari admits investigating incidents such as the one on Beach 138th Street, had there been a prosecutable crime, is “very tough,” due to its lack of eyewitness accounts, video evidence, or a physical victim that would be present in an assault that was racially motivated. “Could it be much more? It could be, but I hope it’s not,” he said.

Those in attendance were appreciative of the attention given to the Rockaways by city officials and the NYPD. “I think it was great and very helpful,” Irv Hackel, congregation president at Ohab Zedek said. “It calmed everyone down that the Deputy Inspector was here,” he added, commending the NYPD as a whole.

However, the lack of specifics discussed regarding Rockaway’s incidents left some unsatisfied. “I was hoping for a little bit more information,” Rabbi Marjorie Slome of West End Temple said. “I was kind of hoping there would be some news,” she said. Regardless, Rabbi Slome remained optimistic about what could come from the meeting and others like it, stating the importance of the “Community Relations” approach outlined by Director Lauter. “I want some concrete actions to come, and I think they will,” she said.     

With this being a time when those of Jewish faith celebrate the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, religious leaders discussed what they will have to do to ensure the safety of their congregants, and talked about security measures, from making sure surveillance cameras are operating to considering armed guards during services. 

“We are beefing up security on the high holy days,” said Captain Hall, commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, who stressed reaching out to law enforcement as an imperative, and left off with simple, yet important advice: “If you see something, say something.” 

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