The news from northern New Jersey this week was not good. Several Molotov cocktails and other incendiary devices were thrown at Congregation Beth El in Rutherford early on the morning of Jan. 11, igniting a fire in the second-floor bedroom of the rabbi’s residence above the synagogue.
This was the fourth anti-Semitic incident in Bergen County within a three-week period. A fire was intentionally set at a synagogue in Paramus and anti-Semitic graffiti was discovered at synagogues in Hackensack and Maywood.
The Rutherford incident is being classified as a bias crime and attempted murder. The Bergen County prosecutor said there was no evidence yet linking the four incidents, but believes they might be connected. He urged residents to be vigilant, but not afraid.
New Jersey has the second largest Jewish population by percentage after New York and a significant number of NJ Jews live in Bergen County. I think about the title of Sinclair Lewis’ novel, It Can’t Happen Here.
But can it happen here?
Alan Dershowitz warns anti-Semitism is moving into the mainstream. Historian Benzion Netanyahu, Bibi’s father, believes anti-Semitism is deeply implanted in gentile cultures.
If there is a possibility that it can happen here, what should American Jews do? Is it sufficient for American Jews to merely be vigilant but not afraid as the Bergen County prosecutor suggests?
My daughter, Helen, is attending the Jewish Theological Seminary for a master’s degree. Her mother’s concerns for Helen’s safety as a young woman in New York City is now exacerbated by concern for her safety as a student at a prominent Jewish institution.
Is vigilance enough? Should some proactive steps be taken to improve Helen’s personal security? Her mother thinks so. Particularly, she believes that Helen should be trained in defensive martial arts. She also believes in firearms training. I tend to agree. This puts us in opposition to the majority of American Jews.
“Never again” is a vow against another Shoa. It is used as a rationale for the creation of Israel, signifying that Jews will defend themselves against those who would oppress and kill them because they are Jews. An armed Jew was an anomaly in 1947; an armed Jew is an anomaly in the United States today. Going even further, an armed citizenry, as contemplated by the Second Amendment, is an anathema to most American Jews, who tend to be among the strongest advocates of gun control.
America and the world have grown increasingly unsafe; nonetheless, there is steadfast belief that the police will be there when you need them.
Assume you have an intruder in your home at night. What do you do, especially when you are in fear for your life and the lives of your family? If you can safely make an undetected 911 call, you can hope the police make it in time, or you can defend yourself. In 2011, the average response time for New York City police to get to a crime was 8.4 minutes, up from 7.5 minutes in 2010. Much can happen while waiting for the police. Consider the well-publicized case of the young Oklahoma widow with an infant who shot intruders with her late husband’s pistol and shotgun. She made a 911 call and the dispatcher told her to do whatever she had to in order to protect her baby. One of the intruders died with a knife in his hand.
There are “castle laws” in 31 states — including New Jersey — which allow people to protect their homes with deadly force under specified circumstances, allowing them to avoid prosecution. But, if you have no gun, the statutory protection does not help.
Public safety is becoming increasingly problematic. Crimes are becoming more violent. Police are spread thin due to budget restraints. This means that the police may not be there when you need them.
The prudent approach is to get training in defensive arts, including the proper use of firearms. As shown in Oklahoma, firearms may be your only defense.
For Jews and women there are risk factors above those for the general population. The far-sighted approach is to be trained to properly react when life or limb is threatened.
I do not own a gun; however, I am considering getting one. I believe guns should be licensed and their owners properly trained. I also want to emphasis that there is a difference between ownership and the right to carry. It is difficult to get a permit to carry a concealed gun. However, there is some evidence of a deterrent effect of licensed, concealed weapons. FBI statistics, cited by the National Rifle Association, show that “right-to-carry” states have 22 percent lower total violent crime rates, 30 percent lower murder rates, 46 percent lower robbery rates, and 12 percent lower aggravated assault rates, as compared to the rest of the country. I wonder what would be the effect on hate crimes.
As the shift sergeant always said at the beginning of the classic TV show Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.” The best way is to follow the Boy Scout credo: “Be Prepared.”