A group of Jewish teens was harassed on Saturday, Jan. 14 while leaving B’nai Emunoh Chabad at 4315 Murray Avenue in Greenfield.
According to a witness who wished to remain anonymous, a group of Black teenagers began to harass the Jewish teens as they left the Chabad center at approximately 6:30 p.m.
“They got very loud,” the eyewitness reported. “They started laughing and said, ‘effing’ something. Another one made a comment to one of the Jewish boys. They said something like, ‘You Jews have got all the money.’ I thought it might escalate, but the Black teenagers got on the 93 bus to Hazelwood.”
While the incident left a lasting impression on the witness, he said he spoke to the Jewish teens the next day, and they didn’t think it was a big deal.
The witness reported the incident to the Zone 4 Pittsburgh Police.
This is the third known incident of antisemitic harassment since the start of the new year taking place in the neighborhood abutting Squirrel Hill.
Earlier in the month, a group of juveniles harassed Jewish community members, asking if they were “fake Jews” and swearing at them, according to Shawn Brokos, director of community security for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
At the time, two separate incidents were reported to the police, who said that because the suspects are juveniles, charging them with crimes would prove “challenging.”
Chabad of Greenfield Co-Director Rabbi Yitzi Goldwasser said that he was concerned about the recent antisemitic activity. He pointed out that Jews in the community are in the minority and that several circumstances might be contributing to the incidents.
“One of the issues is that there’s a bus stop, right by the PNC Bank, taking people from other neighborhoods,” he said. “Then there’s a bar up the street. We have drunk people that walk by on nights and weekends — it’s a regular thing — and there are teens looking for trouble.”
Goldwasser said that, especially in the shadow of the massacre at the Tree of Life building, people are anxious.
“When something like this happens, people are scared by it. Especially with people who might have had drugs or alcohol, hate could present itself not just verbally. It does make people scared, especially parents, children and the elderly, who can’t just run away. It does make them panic,” he said.
Brokos said that neither she nor the police knew why there has been a recent uptick in this type of antisemitic incident, but noted that Pittsburgh is in the midst of an increased “threat tempo.”
It is unknown if the suspects are affiliated with the Black Hebrew Israelites, “a fringe religious movement that rejects widely accepted definitions of Judaism and asserts that people of color are the true children of Israel,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The religious sect, and its belief that the traditional Jewish community are ‘fake Jews’ gained traction among some when Kayne West posted Israelite memes on his Twitter account on Oct. 9, and on Oct. 27, when NBA star Kyrie Irving posted a link to the movie “Hebrews to Negroes,” which advanced Israelite theology.
Another area of tension might be the recent increase in the number of Jews in Greenfield. Both Brokos and Goldwasser noted, though, that there was no proof that the suspects were from the neighborhood. In fact, Goldwasser said, that since the suspects got on a bus, they might not be part of the larger Greenfield community.
Brokos said that Federation and law enforcement take it seriously any time a member of the Jewish community is harassed because of their beliefs or appearance.
“Much of the work we’ve done in the Jewish community is to teach our members to stand up and say, ‘This is not OK. This is wrong and we need to report it,’” she said.
Following the recent incidents, the Greenfield victims did exactly what they were supposed to do — report the incidents to law enforcement. She urged anyone with information about the verbal attacks, and victims of attacks, to contact the Federation and the police.
“It’s absolutely essential,” she said. “We don’t want this trend to continue, and we need to learn more about why this particular rhetoric is being spread in this particular area.”
Goldwasser said that he and Chabad of Greenfield have good relations with their neighbors, pointing to both Chanukah and Sukkot celebrations that included shutting down Murray Avenue for community celebrations.
The rabbi said that the Greenfield Jewish community isn’t naive, though, and it is taking steps to further secure its synagogue building and those who come to celebrate Jewish life.
If the recent antisemitic incidents were intended to intimidate the community, Goldwasser said, they were failed attempts.
“The community’s going to keep growing and thriving and celebrating who we are,” he said. “This has happened too often, unfortunately. The biggest job we have right now is to strengthen our communities and not feel ashamed of who we are or guilty or apologize for it. We’re going to keep doing what we do in a safe way and we’re doing to get along with our neighbors and do everything in a peaceful way. We contribute a lot to our neighborhoods and we’re going to continue to do that.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.