Three years ago in my adopted hometown of Jersey City, two assailants opened fire on a Kosher grocery store, killing three people in the store and a police officer who pursued them outside of it. The assailants were armed to the teeth and these attacks were premeditated, targeting Jewish people. Law enforcement found that duo had cased the supermarket for months prior and had intended to attack even more Jewish community centers in Hudson County with guns and dirty bombs, but were thwarted by the fallen officer, who only happened upon them accidentally during a meeting with an informant.
The investigation uncovered that one of the assailants (both were killed in an ensuing shootout with police) identified as a Black Hebrew Israelite and left a trail of hundreds of antisemitic posts on social media. He believed Jews were Nazis and claimed that they were “imposters who inhabited synagogues of Satan.” Store footage recorded him saying “They stole our heritage, they stole our birthright, and they hired these guys to stop us.” There was a handwritten note in the assailants’ van that read “I do this because my creator makes me do this and I hate who he hates.”
It was one of those news items you could’ve missed if you weren’t looking for it. It was 2019, and for a domestic terror attack and antisemitic hate crime to be front page news, it had to be extra terrifying and extra hateful. Eleven people died in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue shooting. That was terrifying and hateful. Pittsburgh gets mentioned with Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, El Paso. But Jersey City? It was just a few severely unwell individuals who shot up a few folks in a grocery store in a densely populated city. These things happened in densely populated cities.
But I think about this attack all the time. No threat on my existence had ever felt closer to home, both literally and spiritually. As an adult in New Jersey, I live three miles from JC Kosher Supermarket. As a child on Long Island, I grew up the son and grandson of kosher butchers who operated a supermarket with my name emblazoned on the storefront: Rabinowitz and Sons Glatt Kosher Marketplace. This attack felt unsettling and intensely personal, and it has stayed with my long after it faded from the view of our city and our country.
I’ve thought about it a ton since this tweet crossed my timeline yesterday:
It’s not hyperbole to say the rhetoric in Hebrews to Negroes will get people killed because it already has, at the JC Kosher Supermarket in 2019. When I saw that there was a “broad” threat on synagogues in New Jersey today serious enough to require FBI intervention, I thought again about that attack. It would all be so debilitating if it didn’t feel so crushingly normal: another threat made against Jews against the backdrop of the New York City metro area. A day ending in Y.
Last week I sent tweets condemning Irving and felt that the Nets and the NBA had a critical responsibility to act before his rhetoric unspooled itself to more closely resemble the brazen antisemitism of Kanye West. I feared that by receiving tacit permission from his employers to keep spreading dangerous literature to his 22 million social media followers without fear of consequence, Irving would do just that. And if the deluge of antisemitic attacks I received on Twitter after voicing my opinion were any indication, the wrong kind of people were already feeling the wrong kind of power.
After another press conference on Thursday in which Irving failed to disavow the content of the film and state that he was not antisemitic, the Nets finally took something resembling decisive action and suspended him for at least five games “until he satisfies a series of objective remedial measures that address the harmful impact of his conduct.”
I’m going to acknowledge that the Nets are doing the right thing (or at least something more noble than trying to buy our forgetfulness with a $1 million payment to the ADL) while also reserving some cynicism for what happens after five games. Kosher markets and synagogues have already been shot up. More houses of worship are under siege. Threats are being displayed on freeways in Los Angeles and on building marquees in Jacksonville. The literature Irving shared has climbed to the top of the charts on Amazon despite being extensively proven as barely glorified gibberish. The toothpaste isn’t just out of the tube—it’s already spiraled down the drain. If Irving is suiting up for a marquee matchup against the Lakers nine days from now on account of an apology he authored only after his suspension and multiple failed attempts to show contrition and apologize to the Jewish people, that’s not going to cut it. Nets GM Sean Marks said himself that Irving’s actions will speak louder than words, and nothing Irving has done indicates a sincere 180-degree enlightenment between now and November 13th.
The extreme conclusion to the views espoused in the film Irving shared has gotten people like me — very much like me, and very much in my hometown—harassed and killed. And if we’ve learned anything from Jewish history (and sadly, Jewish present), that rhetoric will get people killed again. If Joe Tsai believes this is bigger than basketball, he must understand that it’s not conditionally bigger than basketball. It is bigger than basketball, period.