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Elderly Rabbi Assaulted in San Diego

UPDATE August 24, 2023: San Diego Police released survelience of the assailant. The suspect is described as a male in his 20s to 30s, 5’8″ tall, average build, long wavy hair with possibly dreadlocks; more here.

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An Orthodox rabbi Wednesday said his tzitzits — ceremonial fringes — were torn from the woolen garment he wears under his shirt and thrown on the floor by a man who cussed Jews and Israel.

Rabbi Aharon Shapiro, formerly of Cape Town, South Africa, said the incident Monday near San Diego State University is a reflection of the hateful rhetoric spouted by some American political figures and celebrities.

“A wise person once taught me that fish smell from the head on down,” Shapiro said. “Unfortunately, we live in a country where our political leaders are not really friendly to Israel and we have enough simmering anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Jewish rhetoric that is permeating America, so people pick up on it and want their five seconds of fame.”

San Diego police Lt. Adam Sharki said Tuesday that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

“SDPD stands united with our community against bigotry and aggressively investigates these types of incidents,” he said.

Shapiro, 65, wears a long white beard, tzitzit and a yarmulke (skull cap). He said he was followed into the 7-Eleven in the 5100 block of College Avenue by a White man about 5 foot 8 or 5-9 tall and about 30-35 years old, with shoulder-length curly brown hair, who asked to know whether he was Jewish.

Despite his clearly identifying attire, Shapiro said he didn’t find the question unusual.

Often, he said, people just want to verify that he is Jewish before asking him a question about religion.

In this instance, however, the man “goes into a tirade, anti-Israel, antisemitic — ‘Jews all deserve to die!’ ‘Israel is killing people!’ ‘Israel doesn’t deserve to exist’ — and he is raising his voice, not screaming, but he is not taking a breath.”

At one point, Shapiro responded to the man that “’Israel is ours because God gave it to us’ and then (the perpetrator) carried on, and I said, ‘Go read your Bible.’ During this time, I was walking to the refrigerator section” to buy two cans of Coke Zero, and “he obviously didn’t want to get completely into the store so he sort of stopped. … I went to the cash register to pay.

“I put in my 7-Eleven number because they have an awards system. Once in a while you get $1 off and I put out my credit card. He was still by the door, either inside or outside, and he ran in, grabbed one of my tzitzits, pulled it off the garment, threw it on the floor, said something vile which I don’t remember, and he ran out the door.”

Two female employees watched stunned, saying nothing, as the rabbi chased the man who was about half his age.

“I couldn’t think what else to say on such short notice, so I said he is going to burn in hell, and then he had a few more F-bombs that he threw at me, and I told him he should find out what an adjective is, and then he ran across the street. His tone was pretty vile.”

Rabbi Shapiro works for the Orthodox Union as a field representative in the southwestern United States and the northern portion of the Baja California peninsula of Mexico.

His job as a mashgiach is to certify the kashrut of various food manufacturing plants. He makes his home in San Diego, where he typically prays at the Chabad House near San Diego State University, which has seen several incidents of people vandalizing its outdoor menorah.

Shapiro said the congregation is protected by people with permits to carry concealed weapons.

Reflecting on the incident during an interview, Shapiro said if the man simply had abused him verbally, he might not have reported it to police because “in general, it is just words; ‘sticks and stones will break our bones, and words will never harm you’” but this attack became intolerable when it became physical.

Asked what penalty he thought the perpetrator should pay once he is caught, Shapiro responded, “I need to think about that; I haven’t thought that far. What can we do to show that this is completely unacceptable? We should be aware that these things happen pretty often, that they are not as isolated as people think and that there should be consequences.”

Police obtained video from a 7-Eleven’s security camera, and Shapiro said an investigating officer told him he recognized the perpetrator, although it was not the person that the police officer said he initially thought it might be.

“That means there are at least two of them” out there, the rabbi said.

Shapiro said reporting a hate crime is far too complex and needs to be simplified.

“That is something potentially the Jewish agencies could get changed,” he said.

He said that Chalom Boudjnah of the Chabad at San Diego State University “gave me a website to fill out a report, but that was a report on antisemitism, not a police report.

“Then he gave me the number of a Jewish policeman. When I called that number, they said he wasn’t available, and that you have to call another number. You call that number, and you get into a loop because there is no way of reporting a hate crime on the phone. So they send you to a website, and it says what you can report and what you cannot report, and you can’t report a hate crime online.”

Shapiro said he was told the report needs to be made in person at a police station.

He continued that he went back to Rabbi Chalom and said what happened.

“Then he gave me the name of Bill Ganley (the Secure Community Network officer whose offices are at the Jewish Federation),” Shapiro said. “I called him, told him what the problem is, and he said, ‘All right, let me work on it.’

“He had connections and he called a lieutenant in the police department and the lieutenant was on a vacation day, but he (the lieutenant) said, ‘Don’t worry, I will call one of my people and we will take care of it immediately.’ I then got a call back pretty quickly, then I gave my statement, and then they called back to verify it.”

Source: https://timesofsandiego.com/crime/2023/07/26/rabbi-details-antisemitic-attack-near-sdsu-i-said-he-is-going-to-burn-in-hell/