2019 Monsey Chanukah Tragedy: A Night of Courage and Crisis

Originally published at: https://jewishoriginal.com/2019-monsey-chanukah-tragedy-courage-crisis/

On this day in 2019, on the 7th night of Chanukah (5780), a knife-wielding man named Grafton Thomas entered the home of a Chassidic Rabbi in Monsey, NY, in the middle of a Chanukah Party. He proceeded to stab and hack at the guests present. Five men were wounded, two critically, one of whom died 3 months after the stabbing. Thomas fled the scene in a car after being fought off by guests. He was arrested later that night without incident in NYC. The attack was a culmination of a Chanukah and overall year where violent antisemitic attacks on visible Jews in the NY/NJ area had spiked to an all-time high.

The Monsey party was hosted by Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, with nearly 100 people present to light the candles followed by a community party to celebrate the 7th night of Chanukah. At around 10 pm, a man whose face was covered by a scarf burst into the house with a large knife, likely a machete, and began stabbing bystanders – five would be wounded, one of which was Rabbi Rottenberg’s son. 72-year-old Rabbi Josef Neumann was stabbed in the head and remained in critical condition until March of 2020 when he passed away from his wounds.

Within 2 minutes, other guests began striking the attacker with chairs and a small table, prompting him to leave the house. He attempted to enter a next-door synagogue but fled the scene when he noticed it was locked.

The man, later identified as Grafton Thomas, fled in a vehicle. The police tracked him to the stopped car in Harlem, arresting him shortly after midnight. He was found with blood on his clothes and a strong smell of bleach.

A man with a previous record, investigators also found handwritten journals from Grafton with explicit antisemitic views, including references ranging from Nazism and Hitler to the Black Hebrew Israelites, who have been linked to antisemitism (an attack just 18 days before in Jersey City was perpetrated by two declared members of BHI – see our post on 12.10.20).

Grafton’s online search also showed phrases like “Why did Hitler hate the Jews”, “German Jewish Temples near me”, and “Zionist Temples” in Elizabeth, NJ, and Staten Island, NY.

Thomas was brought to trial on five counts of attempted murder and “obstruction of free exercise of religious belief involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, resulting in bodily injury” (a hate crime). After being indicted by a federal grand jury on December 30th, a federal judge ruled on April 20, 2020, that he was incompetent to stand trial due to a history of schizophrenia and has since been hospitalized in a mental facility.

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