New York Guardian Angels patrol a Jewish neighborhood on edge

Founder of the Guardian Angels, Curtis Sliwa speaks to people in the Brooklyn borough of New York City, New York, U.S. January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Dan Fastenberg

By Peter Szekely and Daniel Fastenberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – On a windy January night in Brooklyn, a young Jewish woman wary of rising anti-Semitism in her city threw a man who had confronted her to the sidewalk.

It was Ariana Gold’s first night of training with the Guardian Angels, a volunteer neighborhood patrol group that has started patrolling the borough’s Crown Heights section, where attacks against ultra-orthodox Jews have risen in recent months.

“I think a lot of people are afraid and I think rightly so,” Gold said. “We’ve seen a lot of attacks in the Jewish communities.”

Gold, 28, who lives in a different Brooklyn neighborhood and is not ultra-orthodox, is among the first group of local Jewish women to sign up with the Guardian Angels, which was born in New York during the high-crime late 1970s and now has branches in dozens of cities across the country and around the world.

The defense techniques she was shown on her first night are designed to “bring a person into submission without really hurting them,” said martial arts master Milton Oliver, 51, a construction supervisor and Guardian Angel since 1982.

Gold, a New York native who has been boxing for exercise for five years, found her way to the Guardian Angels after spotting a recruitment poster in the subway.

“I believe in community engagement and working with communities, I believe in martial arts and self-defense, I believe in volunteerism and taking care of the people around you,” said Gold, who works at a non-profit organization. “So, this kind of combined all of those traits.”

The Guardian Angel patrols in Crown Heights, home to the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement and many of its followers, come after high-profile mass shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego in the past 16 months.

In New York, police reported a 26% jump in anti-Semitic hate-crimes last year. While most of the city’s 234 incidents involved graffiti, they also included attacks on Lubavitchers in Crown Heights, which has a history of occasionally strained relations between Jews and blacks that flared into rioting in 1991.

Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa said community leaders asked his group to resume patrols for the first time since the riots after a mass stabbing attack on Hanukkah celebrants last month in suburban Monsey, New York, about 40 miles (64 km) away, as well as several assaults in Crown Heights.

Patrols were also launched in some other ultra-orthodox Brooklyn neighborhoods, he said.

Although the incidents prompted an increased police presence, Sliwa said residents still need to take charge of their own safety.

“You can’t depend on a political figure or the police,” he said. “You’ve got to self-help, you have to use self-defense, you have to fight back, you have to be aggressive.”

The Guardian Angels have started training 40 to 50 mostly ultra-orthodox Jews to defend themselves and make citizens’ arrests, Sliwa said. By late summer or early fall, he said they should be able to staff their own neighborhood patrols.

Meanwhile, Sliwa and a handful of Guardian Angel volunteers patrol the streets about three times a day in their signature red berets and jackets, often drawing handshakes, selfies and thanks from local residents in traditional Lubavitcher garb.

When Gold is fully trained, she said she will patrol “wherever they send me,” adding, “I’m pretty flexible.”

(This story has been refiled to correct typographical error in byline)

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Dan Fastenberg; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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