Rise in anti-Semitism? What we know about the Hanukkah party machete attack injuring five
MONSEY, N.Y. – Two days after an attacker stabbed five people with a machete at a Hanukkah party at a rabbi’s home, the Jewish community in Monsey — and at large — are still reeling with what appears to be the latest in a series of violent attacks in the area.
The latest stabbing in Monsey follows a string of violence targeting Jewish people in the New York and New Jersey area in recent weeks, as well as an increase in non-violent incidents of anti-Semitism throughout the region.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said there were at least 13 incidents of anti-Semitism in the state in the past few weeks.
In addition to eight attacks in New York City over the past week, three people were killed during a shooting at a Jersey City kosher market 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 synagogue just before dawn.
Here is what we know now about the Monsey stabbings.
Suspect has ‘long history of mental illness,’ family says
A suspect, Grafton Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, New York, pleaded not guilty Sunday morning to five counts of second-degree attempted intentional murder and one count of second-degree burglary. He is being held on $5 million bail in the Rockland County Jail and is due back in court Friday, unless indicted by a grand jury.
As of Sunday evening, officials believe Thomas acted alone, said Rockland County Sheriff Louis Falco. Police continue to investigate his motive.
Thomas was taken into custody by the New York Police Department after a traffic stop in Harlem. Officials said his clothing was covered in blood when he was taken into custody, and smelled of bleach.
Thomas’ family, through lawyer Michael Sussman, issued a statement late Sunday evening confirming his history of mental illness, and requesting that Sussman seek an immediate mental health evaluation of Thomas.
“He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”
Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel wouldn’t speculate whether Thomas had any kind of relationship, connection or experiences with the Hasidic Jewish community in Ramapo. Authorities do not believe Thomas is connected to recent anti-Semitic incidents in New York City.
Victims’ conditions unclear
Two of the victims were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and three were taken to Westchester Medical Center. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the rabbi’s son was among those injured and another person was in critical condition with a fractured skull.
Two of the victims remain hospitalized as of Sunday, Weidel said, but he couldn’t provide information on their conditions.
‘An act of domestic terrorism’
Condemning the attack, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called the stabbings “an act of domestic terrorism.”
He directed the New York State Police to increase patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across the state “out of an abundance of caution,” he said in a statement published on social media Sunday.
President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday afternoon referring to the stabbings an “anti-Semitic attack.” “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism,” he tweeted.
During a menorah lighting event in Des Moines, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders also called out the series of hate crimes targeting religious and ethnic minorities throughout the United States. Sanders, whose father escaped anti-Semitism in Poland in the 1920s, urged attendees to reject bigotry and divisiveness.
“What we are seeing right now — we’re seeing it in America and we’re seeing it all over the world — is a rise in anti-Semitism,” Sanders said during the ceremony. “If there was ever a time in American history where we say no to religious bigotry, now is the time. If there was ever a time where we say no to divisiveness, now is the moment.”
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted Sunday that he directed the New Jersey State Police to increase security around synagogues and Jewish community centers. “Our hearts are with the people of Monsey in the wake of yesterday’s horrific attack,” he tweeted.
Contributing: Nick Coltrain, Des Moines Register; Beth Kalet and Rachel Ettlinger, Times Herald-Record; Joshua Bote, USA TODAY; Associated Press