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To survive despite threats: how New Yorkers with Israeli and Palestinian roots feel now

'16.10.2023'

Alina Prikhodko

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The Jews of New York, of which there are more than a million, are demonstrating their trademark resilience - proudly carrying their faith, despite rising tensions in the city after Israel and Hamas began a military confrontation, writes New York Post.

In recent days, the NYPD has stepped up patrols at Jewish schools and synagogues out of an “abundance of caution.” But despite all this, Jews in New York are not hiding.

“I'm not afraid of anything,” said 31-year-old Manhattan resident Joseph Borgen, wearing a yarmulke and draped in the massive blue-and-white Israeli flag he carried at several rallies in support of the Jewish state and its people in the city last week.

Even as anti-Israel rallies filled the streets last week, Borgen, like many other Jews, refused to live in fear, proudly displaying Star of David pendants, yarmulkes and sweatshirts bearing the Israel Defense Forces symbol.

“No one should put themselves in danger, but in these times when Israel is experiencing great pain and suffering, we must show in any way that we stand with Israel and support it. This is what we have to do,” Borgen said.

Reaction of the city's Jewish community

Chabad Rabbi Uriel Wigler believes that showing Jewish pride and encouraging others to stay strong is the best way to combat a hostile and intimidating climate.

The rabbi runs the organization “Belev Echad“, which provides support to wounded Israeli soldiers.

“When we are faced with unimaginable horrors like what happened at the Tribe of Nova festival, where Hamas killed 7 people on October 250, our response should be to be even more proud to be Jewish,” he said . – Our response to darkness is to turn on the light. A little light dispels the darkness.”

That's exactly what Blake Zavadsky, a student who was beaten in Bay Ridge two years ago for wearing an IDF sweatshirt, is doing.

“People say they're afraid to wear a Star of David pendant, but I tell them to be proud of who they are,” said Zavadsky, who last week wore his “End Jew Hatred” sweatshirt again.

“Jews in New York are scared—nobody wants to be attacked or worse. I was attacked,” said Blake, the son of refugees from the former Soviet Union who sought religious freedom in the United States. He admitted that the attack left him with “scars.”

“But if I went back in time, I wouldn’t take the sweatshirt off. No! This will allow the anti-Semites to win,” he said. “I’m a Jew and I’m proud of it.”

“Expressing your Judaism is an act of courage.”

Dikla Goren, a 42-year-old mother of four from Brooklyn, draped herself in a large Israeli flag at a rally in Midtown last week. It was the first time she had done so since she visited the former Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as a teenager.

“I was very proud when I went to Auschwitz at 17, but I never imagined in my life that I would have to show the whole world that I was Jewish and proud of it. This cannot happen in 2023,” she said.

Goren, who moved from Israel 13 years ago, has also put up posters of missing Israelis - many of them children - in Brooklyn, hoping to educate people, although fearing a backlash.

Anti-Israel protests took place at several New York City colleges this week. Pro-Israel and Palestinian protesters clashed on the campuses of CUNY Brooklyn College, Hunter College and Columbia University on Thursday.

Palestinian community of New York

There are about 700 Muslims living in New York, but New York's Palestinian community is much smaller. It is concentrated in enclaves in Bay Ridge and Astoria, home to about 7 people, according to census data, although that figure is likely an underestimate because many identify only as Arab without specifying their region of origin.

A majority of New Yorkers have declared their support for Israel after a Hamas attack killed 1300 Israelis and took hundreds more hostage. But as subsequent Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip killed more than 2300 Palestinians, including more than 700 children, New Yorkers with Palestinian roots felt “unfairly abandoned,” writes City.

Gov. Kathy Hochul was asked Thursday what she would say to Palestinian New Yorkers who may have lost loved ones or fear for them. Her position was one of unwavering support for Israel: “I call on law-abiding Palestinians to reject Hamas. This shouldn't bother them. Hamas is a terrorist organization,” she said. “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The conflict, which broke out thousands of miles away, erupted in outbreaks throughout New York. Men carrying Israeli flags got into a fight with people chanting “Free Palestine” in Bay Ridge on Wednesday, police said. A few hours later, a similar fight took place in Williamsburg.

“It's lonely here in America”

Tensions continued to rise throughout the week ahead of a planned pro-Palestinian demonstration in Times Square on Friday, following a call by a former Hamas leader for a “day of jihad.”

Demonstrations in support of Palestinians were peaceful Friday, however, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering in Midtown and marching east along 42nd Street to the Israeli consulate on Second Avenue. Protesters wearing traditional keffiyeh headscarves and carrying Palestinian flags chanted “Free Palestine,” demanding an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The rally was attended by people from different generations, some New Yorkers with no personal ties to the region, and many Palestinians living in the city's environs.

Nisreen Mahmood, 24, who lives in Yonkers, said she has felt let down by local leaders over the past few days.

“It makes me feel very alone here in America,” she said. - We live here. But they don’t protect us in any way.”

She spoke to her cousins, uncles and aunts in Jenin in the West Bank, who told her they had no electricity or water and were allegedly told to stay home and prepare for three months of isolation.

“We are New Yorkers too.”

New Yorkers with Palestinian roots are disappointed with the actions of local leaders.

Over the past week, Mayor Eric Adams spoke at a “New York for Israel” rally, met with Jewish educational leaders and spoke at a Shabbat dinner. During the week of conflict, the mayor did not make a single such visit to the Palestinians of New York, at least not publicly.

Local activist Zein Rimawi says he feels, listening to New York leaders, a double standard in which “the lives of Israelis are valued more than the lives of Palestinians.”

“We are New Yorkers too. We live here,” he says indignantly.

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