By Christopher J. Eberhart and John Bacon
Police work at a residence in Monsey, N.Y., early Sunday, December 29, 2019, following a stabbing Saturday during a Hanukkah celebration. Authorities say that several people were stabbed north of New York City late Saturday night and a possible suspect has been located. Seth Harrison, AP
MONSEY, N.Y. – One person remained in critical condition Sunday after a knife-wielding attacker stabbed five people during a Hanukkah party in a rabbi’s home Saturday night, the latest in a string of assaults apparently targeting Jews in the region.
A suspect was taken into custody in the Harlem section of New York City a short time after the attack, the NYPD said. Grafton E. Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, New York, faces five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said Sunday. Monsey is about 30 miles north of Harlem.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the attack “an act of domestic terrorism” and directed the State Police hate crimes task force to investigate. He said the attack was at least the 13th incident of anti-Semitism in the state in the past few weeks.
“This is intolerance meets ignorance meets illegality,” Cuomo said. “This is an intolerant time in this country. We see anger and we see hatred exploding. It is an American cancer in the body politic.”
State Attorney General Letitia James said she was “deeply disturbed” by the attack.
“There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation,” James tweeted. “I stand with the Jewish community.”
The attack took place in the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, who heads Congregation Netzach Yisroel next door. Weidel said officers received reports of a stabbing just before 10 p.m., and witnesses described the weapon as a large knife or machete.
Two of the victims were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and three were taken to Westchester Medical Center. Cuomo, who said he visited with with the rabbi Sunday morning, said Rottenberg’s son was among those wounded and that another person was in critical condition with wounds to the head.
A video posted by Monsey News on Twitter shows a massive response on Forshay Road as paramedics rushed stretchers to ambulances. Forshay Road is a predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.
Weidel said a witness saw the fleeing suspect’s license plate number, helping police find the vehicle when it entered New York City.
At least eight attacks have been reported in New York City over the past week. And three people were killed in a shooting rampage at a Jersey City kosher market earlier this month. Monsey was also the scene of an attack on Nov. 20 when a 30-year-old rabbi was stabbed on his way to a Howard Drive synagogue just before dawn.
The Anti-Defamation League reported “near-historic” levels of anti-Semitic activity nationwide in 2018. CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said his group was “saddened, disturbed, and outraged” by the Monsey and other recent attacks. He called for aggressive investigation and prosecution of the crimes.
“These heinous attacks make something abundantly clear: the Jewish community needs greater protection,” Greenblatt said. “Whether worshiping in a synagogue, or shopping at kosher supermarket, or celebrating Hanukkah in the home of your rabbi, Jews should be safe from violence.”
Moses Kahan, an Orthodox Jewish community activist in New York and New Jersey, said there’s been a buildup of hateful words across the region. Kahan expressed frustration with New York City authorities, saying they had not taken the threat as seriously as they should.
But in Rockland, Kahan added, County Executive Ed Day and incoming District Attorney Thomas Walsh “will not give in to the haters and violent criminals.” Day condemned the attack and said violence of any kind will not be tolerated in the county.
“People need to know that law enforcement in Rockland will leave no stone unturned as they bring those guilty of this crime to swift and severe justice,” Day said in a statement.
Dustin Hausner, a Jewish community activist, noted that the Monsey attack took place in the waning days of Hanukkah, following multiple “heartbreaking” attacks on Jews in New York City. He called on residents of Rockland County to stand with those attacked.
“It is unfortunately very easy with social media to dehumanize those who are different and to feel detached,” Hausner said. “It is times like this we must show our unity against violence and against hatred through our words and acts of love, empathy and compassion to those in need.”
Eberhart reports for the Rockland/Westchester Journal News. Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Nancy Cutler, Steve Lieberman and Jonathan Bandler, Rockland/Westchester Journal News.
Credit to USA Today.