November 16, 2018

Attack on L.A. rabbi not being pursued as hate crime

One moment, 74-year-old Eli Perkowski was walking home quietly from his daily minyan at Congregation Bais Yehuda, near the border of the Fairfax and Hancock Park neighborhoods. The next, he was being pummeled with a flurry of punches and kicks by an unknown man, in a May 22 assault that was captured on video and went viral on social media.

“It was so quick. He was a vicious guy,” Perkowski told the Journal. “As he swung out and punched me, he was cursing at me. I’m thankful he stopped when he did.”

The incident occurred shortly before 9 a.m. on a residential block near the shul. Though Perkowski was wearing a yarmulke and carrying a tallit bag when attacked, the Los Angeles Police Department is investigating the incident as a “random act,” not a hate crime, said LAPD Officer Mike Lopez.

An LAPD alert circulating in the community describes the attacker as male, light-skinned Black, about 40 years old and a transient.

In public comments soon after the attack, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents the district where the incident took place, said Perkowski’s religion may have had something to do with the assault. During a May 24 event at Adat Ari El in Valley Village, Koretz said he believed the attack was a hate crime, even though “it’s not being treated as such.”

A day later, in an official statement, Koretz emphasized cooperation between his office and the LAPD in ensuring the safety of the area’s residents.

I have requested extra patrols until the incident is resolved,” Koretz said. “At this time, I am working to assure residents are safe, and would like to thank the LAPD for responding to the incident quickly.”

The incident, which occurred at 8:40 a.m. at Detroit Street and Oakwood Avenue, was captured on video by a camera affixed to a nearby private residence. The video shows Perkowski walking on the sidewalk when a loitering man confronts him before punching and kicking him to the ground over the course of 15 seconds. The attacker then walks away and another man comes to Perkowski’s aid.

Anti-Defamation League Senior Associate Director Alison Mayersohn described the footage as a “very disturbing tape of an elderly, identifiably Jewish man being a victim of a brutal assault. … LAPD is doing their investigation and we’ll wait to see the result of that investigation.” But, she added, “From what we understand, they have no reason to believe there was a motivation related to his religion.”

Hatzolah of Los Angeles, an emergency response organization for the local Orthodox community, quickly arrived at the scene, according to Perkowski, a 20-year resident of the heavily Orthodox neighborhood. LAPD officers arrived afterward and suggested he seek medical attention at a hospital, which he declined.

The attack has prompted outrage in the Orthodox Jewish community, due in part to Baruch C. Cohen, a civil trial attorney who was among many people who shared the video of the assault on Facebook.

Cohen, who was not aware how the video found its way onto social media, told the Journal the attack reminded him of incidents in his childhood in the 1960s and ’70s in Far Rockaway, a neighborhood in the New York borough of Queens, when Jews faced attacks on the street as a result of racial tensions.

“I witnessed this type of attack on elderly Jews back in Queens,” Cohen said. “I recall the outrage then — I’m déjà vu-ing the outrage now — and I’m lamenting the absence of perhaps the [Jewish Defense League] that made its mark on the community and made it known we’re off limits — ‘Don’t touch us.’ And the hell that came to the hooligan that disregarded that warning.”

Etz Jacob Congregation Rabbi Rubin Huttler, whose synagogue is nearby on Beverly Boulevard, said he is not aware of similar incidents happening in the neighborhood.

“I think this is a very unique thing and very surprising that it happened,” he said. “[However,] things do happen.” n