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‘An act of pure evil’: NY leaders hold 2-year memorial for deadly antisemitic attack

Governor, senators, attorney general and Israeli envoy commemorate 2019 machete assault on Hanukkah worshipers in Monsey that killed 1, injured 5

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Onlookers including Orthodox Jewish residents stand on the corner of Forshay Road in Monsey, New York, December 29, 2019, down the street from the scene of a stabbing rampage that occurred late the previous day during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP Photo/Allyse Pulliam)
Onlookers including Orthodox Jewish residents stand on the corner of Forshay Road in Monsey, New York, December 29, 2019, down the street from the scene of a stabbing rampage that occurred late the previous day during a Hanukkah celebration. (AP Photo/Allyse Pulliam)

NEW YORK — New York State leaders commemorated the two-year anniversary of a deadly antisemitic attack during an online event on Monday.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer and New York Attorney General Letitia James spoke at the event memorializing the December 2019 attack in Monsey that killed Josef Neumann at a Hanukkah celebration and injured five others.

“Hate has no place in our state and no one should ever feel unsafe in their own home, community or house of worship,” Hochul said. “Our work is not done and it never will be as long as that hatred remains, either underneath the surface or in plain sight.”

Schumer, the first Jewish US senate majority leader, said, “The attack in Monsey was an act of pure evil — Jews attacked while celebrating Hanukkah.”

“No one should feel vulnerable sitting in a synagogue or shul, dropping their children off at school or going to the Rockland JCC,” Schumer said.

“I wish we could say what happened in Monsey was an aberration,” he said. “Wherever antisemitism rears its ugly and vicious head we must shine a light and confront it.”

Josef Neumann, 72, who was seriously injured during a December 29, 2019, machete assault in Monsey, New York, and died three months later. (Courtesy)

James said the attack was “a single act of horror, but we must also remember the long history it reminds us of.”

“Antisemitism is an ancient, resilient and deadly form of poison, a cancer that must be stamped out,” she said. “When a Jewish home is violated, all of us are violated. When a Jewish person is assaulted, all of us are assaulted.”

Asaf Zamir, Israel’s consul general in New York, described three antisemitic attacks in New York in recent weeks and linked antisemitism to anti-Zionism.

“Today, anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment has become another form of antisemitism,” Zamir said. Jewish people “must never be made to act or feel apologetic to defend themselves against those who seek their destruction.”

The Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Federation and Foundation of Rockland County organized the event, which included statements and a memorial ceremony with US Congressman Mondaire Jones, local leaders and a rabbi who said he knew the victim well.

“We remember a good, moral, fine human being, whose only sin that night was that he had Jewish blood flowing through his veins,” Monsey Rabbi YY Jacobson said of Neumann, who was 72 when he died. “The attack reminds us how vulnerable we all are.”

During the December 28, 2019 incident, attacker Grafton Thomas broke into a rabbi’s house next to a synagogue during a Hanukkah gathering and attacked worshipers with a machete.

Ramapo police officers escort Grafton Thomas, the suspect in the Monsey attack, from Ramapo Town Hall to a police vehicle, in Ramapo, New York, December 29, 2019. (Julius Constantine Motal/AP)

Federal prosecutors have said Thomas kept handwritten journals containing antisemitic comments and a swastika and researched Adolf Hitler’s hatred of Jews online before the attack.

Thomas’s attorneys have argued he was not motivated by antisemitism and has struggled with mental illness for years. He is being held in a mental health facility amid ongoing legal proceedings.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2020 Hate Crime Statistics report, the most recent, showed that overall hate crimes were rising, and that antisemitic hate crimes made up 57% of all religious bias crimes, by far the largest proportion of any group.

Jews were the most targeted group for hate crimes in last year in New York City, according to the NYPD’s most up-to-date data, with 144 confirmed attacks against Jews accounting for 35% of all hate crimes in the city.

In 2019, the year of the Monsey attack, there were several deadly attacks on Jews in the US, including a shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, and at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey.

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