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Monsey's Jewish Community On Edge

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The Brooklyn Bridge is the scene of a march today to show solidarity with New York's Jewish community. This follows a spate of anti-Semitic attacks statewide over the last month. And now there's also heightened fear the city could be a target of international terror as tensions rise with Iran. North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann reports.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: It's a busy afternoon in Glauber’s, a traditional Hasidic bakery in Monsey, a suburb just north of New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF BAKERY AMBIENCE)

MANN: Men and women are hurrying to buy bread and treats ahead of the Sabbath. No one here is comfortable talking with me about the machete attack that left five of their neighbors injured, one critically. But a few streets away, a local rabbi welcomes me into his home.

MOISHE: I live in Monsey for 44 years.

LEAH: I grew up in Brooklyn, and I'm here for 23 years now.

MANN: That's Moishe and his wife Leah. They've asked NPR not to use their last name. Moishe says the attack on a nearby home during the Hanukkah celebration rattled everyone in this close-knit Hasidic community.

MOISHE: Person who was the most injured - I knew him personally. My father was a rabbi, as I mentioned before. He used to come to my father and sometimes pray at our synagogue.

MANN: Hasidic Jews first started settling in Monsey in the 1950s. It was a rural town then, and several leading rabbis established important schools here. Over the last decade, as housing prices skyrocketed in New York City, more and more families left Brooklyn for these winding suburban streets. Even before last month's rash of anti-Semitic incidents, Moishe says there were cultural tensions here with their non-Hasidic neighbors.

MOISHE: You could go into a store or to a local library or gas station and see in the person's eyes, like, what are you do here?

MANN: But until recently, Leah says Monsey felt really safe.

LEAH: There's definitely a little bit more anxiety, or maybe I shouldn't say a little. Maybe it's a little bit more than a little. But there's also much more police protection. But we definitely are relying very much on God for his protection, also. And...

MANN: State and local officials say they have stepped up patrols and surveillance in New York City and in Jewish neighborhoods in surrounding suburbs like this one. But Leah says the violence revived old fears.

LEAH: This goes back for generations that the Jews were never really loved. You know, we always did have a certain fear of being targeted.

MANN: As we were talking over their dining room table about homegrown anti-Semitism in New York, officials in New York City were holding a press conference to talk about the elevated risk of terror from foreign actors.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

JOHN MILLER: We live in a complex threat environment in our day-to-day normal.

MANN: John Miller heads the NYPD's intelligence and counterterror unit. He says his teams are on the highest alert. And people will see more security at locations and in neighborhoods considered to be high-value targets.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MILLER: We have, aside from terrorism, a series of hate incidents, anti-Semitic incidents in certain neighborhoods around the city, which we have also deployed against.

MANN: Mayor Bill de Blasio says in the days after the U.S. killed an Iranian general, there have been no specific threats identified against his city. But he says the potential for violence could be greater than 9/11.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL DE BLASIO: We have never confronted in recent decades the reality of a war with a government of a large country with a international terror network at its behest. And no one has to be reminded that New York City is the No. 1 terror target in the United States. So we have to recognize that this creates a whole series of dangerous possibilities for our city.

MANN: Security preparations for today's Jewish solidarity march were intense. Meanwhile, the police investigation of the Monsey attack continues. Attorneys and family members of Grafton Thomas, the man arrested and charged with federal hate crimes following the assault, say he suffered from schizophrenia and depression.

Brian Mann, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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