Gunmen believed to have deliberately targeted Jewish shop

Deadly attack on New Jersey Jews draws condolences, police protection

‘A growing pattern of violent anti-Semitism has now turned into a crisis for our nation,’ says mayor of nearby New York City, announcing extra cops to guard Jewish sites

Police officers arrive at the scene of a shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey on December 10, 2019. (Kena Betancur/AFP)
Police officers arrive at the scene of a shooting in Jersey City, New Jersey on December 10, 2019. (Kena Betancur/AFP)

The deadly shooting at a New Jersey kosher supermarket on Tuesday drew condemnations from leaders in Israel, the US and the American Jewish community, while local officials announced heightened protection for Jewish institutions.

“On behalf of the people of Israel, I extend my condolences of the families of Leah Mindel Ferencz, Moshe Hirsch Deutsch, police officer Joe Seals and the other victims of the murderous attack in Jersey City,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted after the attack.

Though they initially ruled out a terror attack, investigators later said they believed the two gunmen who shot and killed a cop in a Jersey City cemetery, then drove to a kosher supermarket and began an hour-long gunbattle that left three Jewish bystanders and themselves dead, had deliberately targeted the Jewish shop.

“Based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said late Tuesday, without elaborating.

Police officers are seen at the scene of a deadly shooting outside a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, New Jersey, December 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Next to the store, the only kosher supermarket in the area and a central fixture for the growing community, are a yeshiva and a synagogue. Around 100 Jewish families live in the area in the city’s Greenville neighborhood, with most of the families having moved there from Brooklyn in the last few years.

Authorities have not released information on the victims, but Chabad identified two of the dead as store owner Leah Minda Ferencz, 33, and Moshe Deutsch, 24, both members of the local Hasidic community.

The third victim was also believed to be a member of the local Jewish community.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a dedication ceremony for The Shed, a new cultural space at Hudson Yards on April 1, 2019, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Officials did not name the gunmen, but local reports said they were a man and woman in their late 40s. According to local media, the two were heavily armed and driving a stolen U-Haul van. They fled an encounter with police toward the only kosher supermarket in town and shot an ultra-Orthodox man in the street as they ran into the store, triggering the hour-long gunbattle with police outside.

In response to the attack, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, noting his counterpart’s assertion that the gunmen had targeted the Jewish supermarket, placed the NYPD on high alert and announced special protection for “key locations” in the city’s Jewish community, the largest in the nation.

“This tragically confirms that a growing pattern of violent anti-Semitism has now turned into a crisis for our nation. And now this threat has reached the doorstep of New York City,” de Blasio said in a statement.

“Although there is no credible or specific threat directed against New York City, I have directed the NYPD to assume a state of high alert. Tonight, NYPD assets are being redeployed to protect key locations in the Jewish community. Tomorrow, we will announce additional measures. History teaches us how dangerous it is to ignore this kind of hateful pattern. We must stop anti-Semitism aggressively and decisively, and I call upon all New Yorkers to join in rooting out this threat,” de Blasio said.

New York Police Department Commissioner Dermot Shea confirmed the order, saying in a tweet, “We have redeployed our resources to protect key locations in our Jewish communities. Hate has no home here.”

The attack rattled both the local and national Jewish community, amid a spike in violent attacks on Jewish institutions in recent years.

An FBI hate crimes report recently showed that most hate crimes targeting religious groups in the US in 2018 were directed at Jews. The 2018 Hate Crimes Statistics Report, published in November 2019, found that of 1,419 incidents of hate last year based on religion, Jews suffered 835, or about 58 percent of the total. It was also the deadliest year for US Jews since the FBI began tracking hate crimes in 1991, with 24 murders of Jews over their identity, including 11 victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in October 2018.

One New York City councilman, Chaim Deutsch, a member of the council’s Jewish caucus, called the indications of a possible anti-Semitic motive in the latest shooting “horrifying.”

“Jews have been attacked, beaten, & killed, simply because of our religion,” he said on Twitter.

Deutsch also said he had contacted Mayor Fulop to urge him to work with the Jewish community to ensure the swift burial of the victims, in accordance with Jewish tradition.

Fulop replied that his office has been “in close contact with the Jewish community…to help where we can. While we work through details/investigation of today’s incident I know the entire Jersey City community stands together with the Jewish Community during these challenging times.”

Many American Jewish reactions highlighted the sense of vulnerability.

“We. Are. Already. Being. Targeted,” tweeted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg.

The incident drew support across the board in the United States, but especially from gun control advocates who called it another example of the runaway gun violence that sets American society apart from the rest of the developed world.

“Schools on lockdown, another Jewish community in terror, more police officers shot in the line of duty,” Gabrielle Giffords, a former Arizona congresswoman who resigned her seat in 2012 after she was severely wounded in a shooting. “My heart is with Jersey City — and my frustration is with our leaders who refuse to lead. Our lawmakers have the obligation to act.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, praised the police officer killed in the attack, Joseph Seals, a veteran and father of five, for making “the ultimate sacrifice.”

“His life was inspirational. His death was heroic. He will be remembered,” Dayan said.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was “heartbroken by the loss of life.”

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said she was “deeply saddened by the horrific loss of life.”

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey, said that “once again, we’re faced with scenes of carnage, fear, and loss. It’s reprehensible that in America, residents are shot while grocery shopping.”

Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang similarly condemned the attack.

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