Shmuley Boteach

The Day I Was Almost Lynched by a Pro-Hamas NYU Mob

This past Friday, riding my bike before the Sabbath, I came across a Jewish anti-Israel “Shabbat” protest near NYU at Washington Square Park. They spoke of the usual libels against Israel. Genocide. Murderers. Israel as a colonial state. I pulled out both my phones and went live on Facebook and Instagram where I have thank God a large international following.

Seriously, I asked the progressive rabbis. This is what Shabbat means to you. A blood libel against the Jewish people and the IDF?

Most were wearing COVID masks so as to disguise their identities. They began to encircle me with posters so that I could not film them. I asked why they were hiding. I told them my name, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. I showed I was unmasked because I do not believe in hiding my convictions. They became more menacing and pushed up against me with their signage and told help was coming. The cavalry was on its way.

A few minutes later about 1000 student protesters from NYU arrived. The leader with the bullhorn recognized me and said, “Rabbi Shmuley the (insert adjective) is here.” I was largely booed and then things really got menacing. I was surrounded by a frightening and violent mob. I stood my ground. “You are so ugly.” “You smell.” “You’re a monster.” All beautiful and ancient Jewish tropes. They knocked off my yarmulke multiple times. I dropped an air pod out of my ear. They kicked it between each other like a soccer ball.

Suddenly, a crazed young woman came and, screaming at the top of her lungs, pushed and assaulted me with all her might. I started yelling for the NYPD. The cops, who were across the street, came and started to escort me out of the throng. I objected. Why was I being removed. I had done nothing wrong. I was being assaulted. Why aren’t the people who assaulted me being arrested. “You can come and make a report across the street, but we need to remove you.” I reluctantly followed them and made a report, surrounded by New York’s finest.

Let me be clear. I love the police. They are my heroes. But their natural disposition amid all the assaults against Jews since October 7th is to “deescalate” the situation usually by having the peaceful Jewish victims removed for their own safety while the pro-Palestinian mob takes over the streets.

I told the police I am grateful for their protection. But then there are optics. “Anyone watching this scene, with scores of police surrounding me while the mob continues to change the most heinous things about Jews will conclude that I’m the one who did something wrong. You’ve ceded the public square to antisemites.”

A few moments later a senior captain of the NYPD with whom I’m friendly called me and told me he heard what was going on and asked me to help deescalate. He’s an orthodox Jew and an outstanding public servant. I had to leave to get home in time for Shabbat anyway so I accepted his counsel and left.

The violent mob that surrounded me was the closest I’ve ever come to feeling the way a black man in America would have felt in the South before a lynching. And truth be told, while I was surrounded by this horrible morass of degenerate and reptilian haters, I felt not an ounce of fear. In fact, the only fear I felt was being arrested by the police. Would they accuse me of incitement for simply being a Jew with a Yarmulke. Should I have hidden my identity so as not to provoke the mob?

Welcome to America in the year 2024 where our best Universities are now controlled by pro-terrorist thugs, our Jewish Senators like Bernie Sanders are traitors to their people who essentially that Israel is always the aggressor and never the victim, and where the police, trying their best to deescalate the situation, essentially are telling Jews that they should consider lowering their visibility so as not to be targets.

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is whether I believe a holocaust is possible outside of Israel, in the United States or Europe. My answer is no. It’s not a genocide of the Jews that I fear in the near term (although I am amazed at how many people disagree with me). Rather my concern is that as the intimidation on campuses and town squares increases, we Jews will become the Illuminati, a secret society that hides in plain sight.

It’s already mostly happened in Europe, where, except for Orthodox neighborhoods, yarmulkes and Magen Davids disappeared decades ago. But it’s how it’s happening all over the United States. Expect to see synagogues that don’t say “Synagogue” and JCC’s that don’t use the word Jewish.

What are the implications for an international community that goes underground?

Well, for that we need look no further than the Marranos of Spain five hundred years ago. Anyone see any remaining? Can you find any Marrano shuls in Seville or Yeshivas in Barcelona? Of course not. They died out centuries ago.

But why? Why couldn’t Jewish observance continue in secret?

Well, for the same reason that a marriage cannot survive without overt displays of affection or a father-son relationship cannot thrive without demonstrative love. The moment something goes underground completely, however deeply felt, is the moment it starts to die.

In the same way that a soul cannot be sustained without a body, Jewish observance cannot be sustained without Jewish pride. As we leave the Synagogues and take off our Yarmulkes, our children are watching and the message they get is that there is no Jewish identity outside the ghetto. They learn to compartmentalize their Jewishness, which is another way of saying they learn to make it secondary.

So what should we do about all the harassment, bullying, and even violence against Jewish students on campus?

Well, one part of me wants to tell Columbia, Yale, and Harvard to go to hell. Let’s encourage all the Jewish students to leave and you’ll see that the academic reputations of these once august institutions will crater immediately. Jewish students and Jewish faculty are the cornerstone of so many American academies of excellence. If the Columbia campus neo-Nazis get their way and make the University Judenrein, then the degrees these pro-Hamas thugs will be receiving will be valuable only for them becoming parking attendants.

But on the other hand, I know this reaction is rash, angry, and unacceptable. Retreating to the ghetto for security is not the solution. We have to force the University administrations and American law enforcement to do their damn jobs and protect Jewish students. We are not only a people that reside in our ancient and eternal homeland in Israel. We are also a global faith community whose values and ideals have changed the world forever and infinitely for the better. We cannot retreat to Fortress Israel as if we Jews were about to make our last stand at Masada. We need to continue to be a global faith community and we need thriving Diaspora communities throughout the world, with Israel as its central focal point.

But in America what we most need right now is Jewish students fighting back on campus. It was something that I taught our 5000 Jewish and non-Jewish student members at Oxford to do beginning thirty years ago when we first saw the pro-Palestinian mobs trying to demonize Israel and take over the campuses. We fought back with rallies and with six Israeli Prime Ministers whom we brought to make the case for the Jewish state to audiences of thousands.

So many people tell me that we Jews, at some 15 million, have no hope against 1.3 billion Muslims and 400 million Arabs. Oh really? On the campuses the numbers are actually reversed.

There are 5000 Jewish undergraduates at Harvard, 6000 at NYU, and 4000 at Columbia. The Jewish students vastly outnumber Students for Justice in Palestine and other pro-Hamas pro-terrorist groups. So why did these bullies take over their campuses?

Answer: because maybe, maybe we have ten percent of the Jewish students at most who are in the fight for Israel.

Until we overcome Jewish fear we will never live out our Jewish promise. Until we confront the Islamists on the city streets, Judaism will continue to go further underground.

And even on person, on a street corner or in a public New York City park, can make a difference.

The time to fight back is now.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.
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