January 17, 2020

No More Sitting Ducks: Jews Need to Learn Self-Defense

Joseph Gluck (R) talks to the press as he describes the machete attack that took place earlier outside a rabbi's home during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Monsey, New York, on December 29, 2019. (Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images)

After each anti-Semitic attack, Jews seem to get weaker and more vulnerable. One reason is that instead of taking real action, we prefer to mostly complain and release cliché-ridden statements expressing our “outrage” and “demanding action.”

For those with a political agenda, such condemnations can be useful. If a white supremacist attacks Jews, for example, Donald Trump-hating Democrats will be all over it. If the attacker is Islamic or from the left, Republicans will feast.

Remember when anti-Semitism would bring Jews together by uniting us against a common enemy? What happened? Vicious, partisan politics happened. In these days of trench political warfare, every incident is seen through one lens: How can we use this to help our side win in November?

The alarming string of attacks in New York City by blacks against Orthodox Jews doesn’t fit into a neat political narrative. Had the perpetrators been white supremacists, we can be sure the progressive community and mainstream media would have gone into overdrive.

Progressive activist Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz posed this question on Facebook to his comrades: “Do you only rally against acts of hate against minorities if done with a gun & done by a white supremacist (i.e. fits the set narrative)?”

In an open society where millions of people can circulate freely, it’s unfair to expect authorities to protect each individual Jew.

In any event, it seems as if we reached a tipping point with the Saturday night attack in Monsey against Orthodox Jews celebrating Hanukkah. Coming on the heels of similar assaults over the past couple of weeks, there are signs that groups from across the spectrum are trying to put politics aside and saying, “OK, enough is enough.”

The real question is: What will we do? Will we continue to settle for empty statements of condemnations demanding that “this must stop”? Will activist groups feast on the fundraising boost triggered by fear? Will we put all the responsibility on the government and local authorities to protect us?

It’s fine to demand more from law enforcement, but that only goes so far. You can’t put a guard in front of every Jewish house. Faster response times don’t help when the violent act has already been committed. Certainly, authorities can do a better job of tracking hate speech and trying to anticipate hate crimes, and legislators can strengthen the laws.

And let’s not forget everyone’s favorite word — education. Yes, I dream of the day when education will make people stop hating Jews.

But let’s be realistic: No matter what we do, no matter how many task forces we launch and “state of emergencies” we declare and community security initiatives we organize, there still will be Jews who are vulnerable targets.

This is especially true for the large, ultra-Orthodox community in the New York area, who have become virtual sitting ducks for anyone wishing to harm Jews. In an open society where millions of people can circulate freely, it’s unfair to expect authorities to protect every Jew.

That’s why Jews must learn to better protect themselves — personally and physically. They must learn self-defense. It’s as simple, and painful, as that. 

Most of the recent attacks in New York have used knives and fists rather than guns. A self-defense technique like Krav Maga could be invaluable both to counter and deter such attacks. There are many other techniques and tactics. The point is, we need to put individual self-defense on the communal agenda.

Look at Israel: Is there a nation in the world that has faced more anti-Semitism? The Jewish state has survived for so long because it has understood that bullies prey on fear and are stopped not by reason but by force. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality.

In fact, it was the throwing of a coffee table against the attacker that prevented worse carnage in the Monsey incident. As reported on CNN, when Josef Gluck realized the rampage wasn’t over, he grabbed a coffee table, went after the assailant and “hit him in the face.”

If Torah study makes us stronger, well, so does Krav Maga.

According to the CNN report, the attacker came after him, saying, “Hey, you! I’ll get you.” But Gluck kept screaming, “He’s coming!” and warned everyone to flee. And guess what happened soon after that? The assailant decided to leave.

Did the coffee table counterattack help? You tell me.

Subjects like self-defense are unsettling. No one likes to fight. It would be so much more civilized if we could just count on governmental and communal institutions to protect us. But they need help. They can’t do it alone. Each Jew is a target, and there are simply too many targets.

We can do our share by strengthening these Jewish targets and making ourselves less vulnerable. Yes, Torah study makes us stronger, but so does Krav Maga.