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A Swastika Armband Found at an Upper East Side Tailor Sparks Fury

Saturdays are one of the busiest days of the week at Ignacio’s Tailor on the Upper East Side, where the store, which has been in business for about two decades, regularly alters clothing purchased from nearby Bloomingdale’s and at high-end boutiques on Madison Avenue.

Last Saturday was no different. The store’s manager, Jorge Hernandez, had stepped out for a short lunch during a hectic workday when he got an alarming call from a customer who had witnessed something disturbing: His tailor shop had evidently accepted a job sewing a red, white and black swastika armband onto a white button-down shirt, and the offensive garment was hanging on the rack at the front for all to see.

Hernandez immediately returned from his break. “As soon as I saw the shirt, I pulled it [off the rack],” the manager told the New York Jewish Week on Monday. Hernandez said one of his employees had accepted the item from two customers, described by the New York Post as “a black man with braids and a white woman in their 30s.”

Hernandez said he immediately called the number on the receipt ticket. “I tried to get in touch with them, but they didn’t respond, so I had to call the police,” he said.

The tailor was closed on Sunday. By Monday morning, Hernandez said the police were at the shop to look into what happened and monitor if the perpetrators returned. But their 90-minute visit wasn’t just related to the content of the clothing, Hernandez said, but to stave off New Yorkers who were flooding the store with hundreds of angry phone calls and dozens of 1-star reviews on Yelp and Google.

Two prominent Jewish social media accounts — Lizzy Savetsky, an Upper East Sider who boasts 367,000 followers, and End Jew Hatred, which has nearly 60,000 followers — had posted a picture of the offensive armband on Instagram. They accused the tailor of accepting the job intentionally.

“Swastika spotted in Upper East Side tailoring shop,” read the caption. “From the woman who spotted it: ‘I went to Ignacio’s tailoring on 60th street and this was in his shop hanging on the rack.’ The tailor allegedly knew what the symbol was and took the job anyway. Police have been called.”

At another time, the situation at Ignacio’s might have been chalked up to a mistake, or even be viewed as ripe for a comedy routine — in fact, Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and Peter Clark-Deutsch, a Jewish comedian in New York, have both featured bits about uncomfortably having to deliver others’ Nazi and white supremacist garb to dry cleaners. But it has unfolded at an especially tense time, when the Israel-Hamas war has put Jews in New York and beyond on high alert about antisemitism and has turned social media into a battleground in which online anger has sometimes turned into real-world consequences.

And it has reinforced questions that a robust ecosystem aimed at fighting antisemitism hasn’t always been able to answer: When is it appropriate to call out concerns on social media? What responsibility does one have to make sure a perceived offense is real? And is it fair to subject private individuals to consequences without any kind of effort to seek redress with them directly?

Savetsky, who lives in the neighborhood, said the image of the armband was forwarded to her multiple times via WhatsApp, and that she spoke to the female customer who allegedly took the photo but said she did not want to be identified.

“The person who saw it said that she inquired, and they said that they had taken the job and it was for a customer,” Savetsky told the New York Jewish Week. “That was all the information that I was given and that was enough for me to feel like it should be put out there for the world.”

For Savetsky, calling out a situation like this is part of the work she does — because even if the “how” or “why” is unclear, the fact remains that it happened.

“We’re all on edge. The ice is very thin right now — I’m highly triggered by any antisemitic symbol or hate speech,” she said. “So when I see that, the natural instinct is to shout it from the rooftops.

“It’s important to call out and bring attention to any events that are perpetuating the hatred of the Jewish people,” she added. “If we don’t fight it and we just continue to allow it to grow, we see where it leads us. We can’t be so foolish to think less than 80 years from the Holocaust, that something like that can’t happen.”

The armband image was also shared on X on Monday by the activist account StopAntisemitism, which has nearly 310,000 followers and describes itself as the “leading non-partisan U.S. based organization fighting antisemitism & getting results.”

“NYC based tailor – Ignacio’s on E 60th St. – is aware of what this symbol represents. He refused to not take the job after a customer expressed her outrage,”  StopAntisemitism’s caption read. “Many people ask ‘HOW did the Holocaust happen?’ ‘HOW did ordinary people stand by while their fellow neighbors were being starved and gassed?’ THIS is how. Except it’s not 1939, but 2024.”

A spokesperson for StopAntisemitism told the New York Jewish Week that the account got the photograph from an anonymous tip. “StopAntisemitism is dedicated to exposing groups and individuals that espouse incitement towards the Jewish people and the Jewish State, and engage in antisemitic behaviors,” the spokesperson said. “This incident clearly falls within our mission.”

The image was reposted on X by Upper East Side City Council member Julie Menin, whose mother and grandmother survived the Holocaust. “A constituent in my district alerted me to the fact that a tailor on the UES has this hanging in his queue to be tailored. I have reached out to this business and they will not be tailoring this item and@NYPDnews is currently investigating,” she wrote.

Menin did gather some facts before taking to social media: She told the New York Post that she reposted the image only when she confirmed the situation with Ignacio’s and was told that the tailor would not be working on the garment.

As manager Hernandez told the New York Jewish Week on Monday, the person — or people — who left the swastika armband did not indicate a pick-up date on their ticket. Hernandez believes they never meant to pick up the item; he also added that both he and the NYPD have called the phone number left with the shirt several times and the phone was never answered.

“We are very upset and concerned about this,” he said. “We’ve never had a situation like this. It was very unfortunate.”

To add fuel to the fire, the image went viral on Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual commemoration observed by Jewish communities around the world. Some commenters online drew a connection: “Wow. Just wow. Today is the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah,” one wrote. “Today we remember 6,000,000 Jewish lives brutally taken by the German Nazis. ✡️❤️‍🩹🕯️ Never Again is NOW!!!!”

Others were quick to condemn the tailor. “Never ever using Ignacio’s again!” one person wrote. “Thank you for posting this so I know to never go to Ignacio’s for tailoring. We all make choices and mine is to support businesses that support Israel (and kindness and morality and humanity) which this business clearly does not!” wrote another.

“They are in the right to be upset,” Hernandez said, adding, “It’s very scary. I’ve been here for 20 years and it’s the first situation that I’ve had like this. My customers are saying to me, ‘I feel like somebody’s trying to hurt you.’”

Some online were sensitive to his perspective and spoke out about the dangers of being too quick to judge, with some suggesting that the garment could have been part of a costume for a play. “Lizzy, my sister does a play version of the book, ‘Number the Stars’ and there are costumes similar to what you’re showing here,” one wrote in response to Savetsky’s post. “Please be sure it’s not for a play before condemning this sailor’s [sic] business.”

Another wrote, “Should make sure we have the facts before we collectively torch a business.”

Savetsky said she doesn’t believe that the business should be shut down, only that “the situation needs to be explained and rectified.”

On Yelp, where activists posted dozens of 1-star reviews on Monday, the onslaught prompted an “unusual activity alert” and the store’s page has been temporarily disabled.

“This business recently received increased public attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news,” the Yelp statement read. “While we don’t take a stand one way or the other when it comes to this incident, we’ve temporarily disabled the posting of content to this page as we work to investigate whether the content you see here reflects actual consumer experiences rather than the recent events.”

Hernandez took to the review site Monday to do some damage control. “On behalf of Ignacio’s Tailor i would like to let you know that this past Saturday we have a horrible situation,” he wrote. “… a man walked in at Ignacio’s and requested a job on a busy Saturday my worker get distracted and help the man who wants us to sew a patch on his shirt we did not do the job and we reported the situation to the police who did not come until this morning, we explain the situation to the police and the police filed the report.”

“We apologize for all the inconvenience that this man did to us,” he concluded. ”We will be more alert about this type a situation and will make sure won’t happen again.”

By late Monday afternoon, despite the online uproar, it appeared to be mostly business as usual at Ignacio’s: A steady stream of customers arrived to make alterations for dresses and to pick up newly tailored suits.

One longtime customer, who identified as Jewish and asked to remain anonymous, was picking up a dress. She said she wanted to check in with the tailors to ask what happened, and potentially offer her support. She said she doesn’t think that the owners are antisemitic — rather, she guessed that the store owners themselves could be victims of a hate crime that was perhaps meant to send a message to New Yorkers.

“Nothing surprises me anymore,” she said.

Savetsky said she plans on speaking with Hernandez soon to hear his side of the story. “With the work I do, it can come across as this notion of ‘cancel culture’ — it’s never really my message at all,” she said. “My message is to fight hate, not to destroy businesses.”

https://www.jta.org/2024/05/07/ny/a-swastika-armband-found-at-an-upper-east-side-tailor-sparks-fury