Talking to Neighbors: Anti-Semitism in Boro Park

BORO PARK — Last year saw another spike in reported hate crimes, much of it perpetrated against our Jewish neighbors. So we went out to talk to our neighbors, both Jewish and not, about anti-Semitism, hate, what’s being done and could be done. 

According to NYPD reports, anti-Semitic hate-crimes soared in 2019, accounting for 55% of total reported hate-crimes. That’s an increase by a shocking 26% since 2018.

In light of recent hate crimes, the mayor announced the NYPD will increase their presence in these neighborhoods with large Jewish populations, like South Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park.

Boro Park. Rachel Baron/Bklyner.

Here’s Boro Park.

Debbie, a young Jewish mother from the neighborhood, has not personally witnessed any acts of anti-Semitism, but she’s seen a significant increase in local police presence over the last few weeks. While it makes her feel safer, she believes these occurrences of anti- Semitism should be kept relatively quiet – especially on social media.

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“Social media just makes everything blow up and out of proportion,” Debbie said. “People are getting mixed messages – people are waiting for stuff to happen, and they’re expecting things to happen because of social media. So if the social media would keep quiet, and there wouldn’t be that much of it, then people wouldn’t expect [the hate crimes] as much. And I guess you wouldn’t hear it as much.”

When asked if there was anything else she thought might help reduce these types of crimes, she said, “We’ve got to pray.”

Tony is a 40-year-old hardware store employee who lives in the area, and is originally from Trinidad. While he’s never witnessed any anti-Semitism in the area, he has heard of Jewish people being assaulted. He’s also noticed an increased police presence in the area as of late. While he can’t say for sure if it started right after the Jersey City shootings, his “eyes were opened to [anti-Semitic attacks]” by the event, he told us.

Tony believes the increased presence will help to address the crimes.

“When people [are] seeing more authority out, it’s very hard to work around that,” he said.  

An older Jewish woman who has lived in the area for 40 years, and is originally from Latin America, has never seen any incident of anti-Semitic crime in the area. Like the others, though she has noticed a definite increase in police presence. When asked if she feels safer because of that fact, she said, “yeah, of course.”

Mordechai Gold, an older Jewish man who moved to the area from his native Iran 20 years ago, works at a clothing shop in the area.

Gold has never experienced any act of anti-Semitism in the area, “I’ve never seen [anything] here.”

While he had trouble understanding our question about whether there’s been an increase of police presence in the area, he said that the police “are good, they care.”

He feels safe here, he said, “You know why? Because I have a thousand pieces, stuff outside [the store] – but nobody [touches it].”

He never personally had issues with Muslims in Iran.

“I had, for 30 years, a store in my country, [and] I never [found] a problem with Muslim people.” 

There are still 10 thousand Jews in Iran, he said, and “they [are] living, they have kosher food, they can go pray, but they don’t have a kippah, something like that – but nobody bothers [them].

Still, Jews here have rights and protections that Jews in Iran do not have, he believes, “[In] this country, [there is] law. In my country, no.” If somebody hits a Jewish person, the authorities don’t care, he said. “But here, they care.” He said he feels safe here.

Gold remembers seeing these kinds of crimes back in Iran. “I [was living] in my country, I saw a lot.” Because of that, he especially hates seeing them take place here.

A 51-year-old Black woman working in the neighborhood, who chose to go by her last name Williams, has not noticed any anti-Semitic crimes, though she admits that she spends most of her time working indoors.

Mark Hirsch is a 32-year-old Hasidic man who grew up in the neighborhood. He has not personally been the victim of an anti-Semitic crime, though he knows another Jewish person who was punched in the face by a Black person while walking outside late at night.

He has seen an increase in NYPD presence.

“I did see a little bit of difference, yes. [At] certain times. It was more on the weekends. But what bothered me was that they are on the outskirts of Borough Park,” and not in the areas where more people, especially Jewish people, are walking around, he said. He feels safer with the NYPD around, however.  

Other than sending more police officers to the area, Hirsch feels that education might help make the Jewish community safer.  

“A lot of these non-Jewish schools need education,” he said. “You will never see a Jewish person walking out of their school and punching a boy from another community. You will never see anybody doing anything violent. These kids – they’re probably not bad kids – but they’re not getting the right education [on] how to act [toward] different people or different cultures. It bothers me to see that, because [there are] a lot of good people out there, and everybody wants their kids to be good, but they should get that education.”

“I love being in this place,” Hirsch said. “It’s a very nice place here. My kids are happy. Even though we live in a small apartment – we [have] a very enjoyable community over here.”

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Rachel Lindy Baron

Rachel is a freelance writer and recent Brooklyn transplant who is a bit obsessed with food.

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