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All together now?

Local ‘hero’ who foiled Chanukah machete attacker refuses $20,000 from organizations he calls ‘Zionist’

Josef Gluck speaks to reporters the day after the attack in Monsey on December 29, 2019. (Ben Sales)
Josef Gluck speaks to reporters the day after the attack in Monsey on December 29, 2019. (Ben Sales)

When reports came that a man with a machete had attacked a gathering at a rabbi’s house in Monsey on the Saturday night of Chanukah in late December, representatives of the Rockland Jewish Federation and Foundation and of the Anti-Defamation League sped to the scene.

Jews were under attack, and they knew that their place was in Monsey.

All Jews are brothers and sisters, even if some, like many in Monsey, are chasidim and some are not.

It was a time for Jewish unity.

But Chanukah is in part a holiday of Jewish disunity — a civil war of Jew against Jew — so perhaps it is fitting that one of the reverberations of the horrible attack, which left one man critically injured, is a reminder that in some ways, we are not one.

Two weeks ago, Josef Gluck was scheduled to receive $20,000 in a ceremony at the Jewish Federation. The federation and the local ADL had offered reward money for information leading to the capture and conviction of the perpetrator. Mr. Gluck had fought off the attacker — he threw a table at him — and then ran outside after him and recorded his license plate number. That led to the quick arrest of Grafton Thomas, who still was wearing blood-stained clothes, after he crossed the George Washington Bridge. Mr. Thomas has pleaded not guilty to state and federal attempted murder and hate crime charges, and a forensic psychiatrist’s evaluation released earlier this month declared him unfit to stand trial. The report, prepared by psychiatrist Andrew Levin, said that Mr. Thomas suffers from hallucinations and disordered thinking, that he has had schizophrenia for a long time and had stopped taking his medication in the month before the attack.

Because there was likely to be no trial — and because, despite the legal presumption of innocence, there was little question that the police had captured the right man — the federation and the ADL decided that there was no reason to delay  making the promised award.

Mr. Gluck already had received the New York State Senate’s highest honor, the Liberty Medal, for his actions that December night.

And thus came the announcement scheduling an award ceremony on Thursday, February 6. Since the Jewish Standard goes to the printer on Wednesday to arrive in mailboxes on Friday, the paper’s editors decided that it made sense to write about Mr. Gluck, his heroism, and the award before it happened, so the report would come out that week rather than a week later.

In the article, the Jewish Standard noted that Mr. Gluck “was scheduled to receive” the award. The headline was less tentative, noting that “Monsey hero gets $20,000 reward.”

But it was not to be.

Ooops.

Mr. Gluck, who had declined to speak to the Jewish Standard earlier that week, saying that he was “on vacation,” decided to skip the ceremony. And the $20,000.

Mr. Gluck told News 12 Brooklyn last week that after consulting with his rabbi, he decided to reject the money from the “Zionist organizations” — the Jewish Federation of Rockland County and the Anti-Defamation League — because they don’t represent the beliefs and values of his charedi Orthodox community.

“I was not willing to offer my soul for $20,000. My identity for $20,000 was not for sale,” he told News 12, as reported by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mr. Gluck’s rabbi, Dovid Feldman, instead raised that amount from “people who were inspired by his actions,” according to the report. So he got his $20,000 after all.

Rabbi Feldman explained to News 12 that the ADL and Jewish federation were about to issue a statement “to encourage and promote the Zionist idea of Jewish self-defense, of fighting back, of fighting our enemies, which happens to be contrary to our tradition.”

Rabbi Feldman is a leading Neturei Karta activist. Neturei Karta is an anti-Zionist organization that according to it website Neturei Karta “oppose(s) the so-called ‘State of Israel’ not because it operates secularly, but because the entire concept of a sovereign Jewish state is contrary to Jewish Law.” Rabbi Feldman, who it features on its home page, went to Iran as part of an anti-Zionist delegation, and more recently traveled to Washington to show support for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) after her attack on AIPAC last year.

Rabbi Feldman is a Satmar chasid; there is a relationship between Neturei Karta and Satmar, although they are separate organizations. The extent of the relationship is unclear to outsiders, and insiders are reluctant to define it.

Rich Levin of West Nyack, who chairs the Rockland federation’s Community Relations Committee, said that the federation’s planned award ceremony “was nothing about Zionism or Jewish self-defense. He may have misunderstood or been misled by someone about what was being planned. We weren’t going to use the reward to justify anything other than to appreciate what he did in the events of that awful night. Just the recognition that he did something courageous and something that helped lead to the alleged perpetrator.

“He originally indicated to us that he was going to accept the award and we scheduled a time convenient for him to come. Then we learned that he was not  interested in getting that.

“That’s his choice.”

 Mr. Levin said that despite Mr. Gluck’s cold shoulder, federation representatives were greeted warmly in Monsey on the night of the attack.

“I was there with Steve Gold,” he said. Mr. Gold of New City is the co-president of the federation. “We were welcomed warmly by the people in the immediate area where the attack took place. Many people came up to express their appreciation that federation was there to show support. If something happened afterward that made our presence unwelcome, I regret that. There are parts of the community that don’t appreciate what federation does. That’s unfortunate — but that’s their right.”

Mr. Levin said that despite the snub, “One of the things we’re trying to accomplish in federation is to reach out to all aspects of the Jewish community and beyond, to show what we do and explore where we have common interests and to work together to support those common interests.

Evan Bernstein, the ADL’s vice president for its Northeast division, issued a statement, as he was not immediately available for comment.

“While we were disappointed Mr. Gluck ultimately decided not to accept the award money for his heroic actions, we continue to work closely with the Orthodox Jewish community in Monsey and across the region,” the statement read. “We also continue to offer and pay rewards, when merited, in order to aid law enforcement in their investigation of hate crimes and to encourage members of the public with information to come forward.”

Back in August, Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is the Life/Features editor at the Forward, wrote an essay, “Why does no one care about violence against Orthodox Jews,” lamenting the lack of “mobilization and support of secular and progressive Jews” against the surge in violent attacks against Orthodox Jews in New York City.

She said in a phone interview with the Standard that Mr. Gluck’s refusal to accept the award “is definitely in line with the way the Satmar community functions. It’s entirely self-sufficient, with no acknowledgement of the need for outside organizations.

“I think it’s unfortunate he had that reaction and politicized this. His refusing the reward only perpetuates the stereotypes” about Orthodox Jews that she had bemoaned in her essay. “The right thing to do was to take the money and donate it to a local Satmar organization. Refusing an award, even if he feels it’s unnecessary, to send a message to secular Jews that the charedim are not dealing with them — that’s a very painful message.”

Ms. Chizhik-Goldschmidt, who is Orthodox, said her essay made people uncomfortable. Many of those people, “largely coming from the non-Orthodox left, had discomfort with the idea that Orthodox Jews are at the forefront of anti-Semitism because they’re visible. A lot took issue with a phrase I used, that the Orthodox are the ‘Jews of the Jews.’

“I strongly stand by that statement.

“What was most upsetting was a lot of pushback that really exposed the ugly attitudes within the Jewish community toward the Orthodox community. The reaction that ‘They deserve it’ or ‘They’re taking over communities’ or ‘They’re lobbying for such-and-such.’”

The street violence against Orthodox Jews in New York City continues. Two weeks ago, Ms. Chizhik-Goldschmidt’s husband, Rabbi Benjamin Goldschmidt, assistant rabbi of the Park East Synagogue, was walking home from Friday night services on the Upper East Side with his three-year-old son when he was accosted by a man who screamed “profane accusations about ‘you Jews,’” as she described in the Forward.

What are her thoughts about where this is coming from?

“A lot of it is a result of social media and the way conspiracy theories and terrible rumors are spread,” she said. “I think that’s true on the left and the right, the white nationalists or among the youth in Crown Heights.”

What can be done about it?

“First of all, report it to the authorities and independent agencies like the ADL,” she said. “Awareness is really important. I thought awareness was a cliché until it happened to us.”

And beyond that, “dialogue bridging events between communities need to be invested in more seriously,” she said.

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