American News

Monsey: Meet the Orthodox Jews who are fighting for their Second Amendment rights

"Most of us in the orthodox community, we tend to lean more politically conservative. And the Second Amendment is part of that."

Roberto Wakerell-Cruz Montreal, QC
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Anti-Semitic instances have been on the rise globally in recent years. This is inarguable.

According to Reuters, anti-Semitic attacks worldwide rose 13 percent in 2018, up from the previous year. Shockingly, the majority of instances reported are in western democracies, including France, Britain and Germany.

If you've been paying attention to the news, you know that the United States has gone through some particularly egregious attacks.

The Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania left the nation in shock, as an anti-Semitic murderer took the lives of 11 mostly elderly Jews in their own place of worship.

That shooting was in November of 2018. But looking back at the calendar year for 2019, things have only intensified.

The end of 2019 saw more horrific bloodshed, again in synagogues. This time in the neighbouring New York. During Hannukah of 2019, a violent burglar entered the home of a rabbi wielding a machete, where he would seriously injure five Hasidic Jews.

The suspect has since plead not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary. The suspect was also charged with a federal hate crime. Bail was set at $5 million.

With the rise in anti-Semitism surging in an area that was so close to us in Quebec, we decided to make the journey down to Monsey, New York, a town of roughly 18,000, which is situated about an hour north of New York City. We wanted to see what, if anything, the Jewish community was doing it protect itself.

As a Canadian who has lived primarily in cities, I'm not particularly familiar with guns, or the gun culture that is more commonplace throughout the United States. While I believe in a person's right to bear arms, the process of getting a firearm in Canada has always seemed like enough work to deter me from ever getting one.

Another factor is our two country's histories. Canada doesn't have the same type of gun culture or gun history as the United States. Our neighbours to the south founded their country after a revolution. Guns were essential to its creation, whereas Canada has never sought to pull its roots from the monarchy.

To get a better understanding, we spoke with Eric Melanson, a gun shop owner, resident, and Second Amendment activist.

We were greeted at the shop by Erik and a few other shopkeepers, fiddling away with unloaded pistols, seated at their workbenches and making adjustments as they saw fit. We were given a brief tour, and I finally got to hold a gun for the first time.

Despite the gun being totally unloaded and safe for carrying, I still felt a bit nervous holding it. Already, a stark contrast between Canada's general gun culture and America's.

After the pistol-gripping formalities, I started asking Eric what the Jewish community had done to protect themselves from a potential attack.

We were told that the Jewish community in the area was growing increasingly on edge, especially after attacks so close to home. He informed me that the recent attack was the final straw for many members of the Jewish community, who decided to take up arms under their Second Amendment rights to protect themselves.

"There's been a huge uptick in concealed carry permits. And there are lawsuits going on in [New] Jersey right now to try to gain back the privileges of their Second Amendment."

Following this, we met up with Tzvi Waldman, a Hasidic Jew from the area, who was also integral in introducing the movement of Hasidic Jews taking up their Second Amendment rights within the community.

"Most of us in the orthodox community, we tend to lean more politically conservative. And the Second Amendment is part of that."

With the increased tensions, Tzvi gradually convinced others in the community to get firearms permits and to start training at a firing range. Tzvi said it became easier to convince others with each passing anti-Semitic attack, and the attack in Jersey City which saw two Hasidic men murdered as well as a Jersey City police officer.

Along with Tzvi and members of his community, we went to Rockland Indoor Shooting and Education (RISE) where we saw firsthand the work that the Rockland Hasidic community had done.

We spoke with the owner and operator of RISE, a man named Scott Vignola. Vignola is a textbook gun-guy with patriotic tattoos and an intimidating yet welcoming demeanor. He told us how RISE had started doing what could be called "group Jewish training."

Twelve to fifteen Hasidic Jews with curls and kippahs were present. White dress shirts were tucked in uniformly under their belts. And each had holsters, with a handgun to accompany them.

Scott explained to me that New York state law makes it nearly impossible to carry firearms in places of worship, or on the street, without additional permits. Even with the increase of attacks, these "carry" permits remain virtually impossible to obtain.

These laws create a dangerous environment for those wanting to protect themselves, thanks largely to something called cash bail laws.

New York state law allows people who have committed violent crimes to get out on the same day. Because of this, along with the repression of their Second Amendment rights, a group called Second Amendment New York State (2ANYS) has decided to sue Rockland County.

The violence in New York towards Jews is not something without its own history. In the 1990s, the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn saw increased racial tensions between black residents and Jewish Chabad residents. Those tensions resulted in riots. Two people died, 180 were injured, and 129 were arrested.

To better understand the factors at play, we spoke to former New York City assemblyman of 36 years, Dov Hikind.

Hikind did not restrain himself from criticizing the Demoractic Party, and other political inaction, for the increase of anti-Semitism.

"I don't think anyone believes that Jersey City, Monsey, everything else, it's over. I think most people feel it's going to get worse before it gets better," Hikind said.

"There are people who will hide their Star of David. People who will take off their yarmulke, because they're afraid."

Hikind blamed the Democratic Party's legitimization of anti-Semitism for the increase of hate crimes.

"They know what's going on. They know what I know, and what I see. They don't have the guts, because of politics... We've got to take this stuff seriously. Government should not make it impossible for you to express your Second Amendment rights. And that's what's happening in many parts of this country. More and more people are applying for gun permits to have some kind of weapon in their home."

Meanwhile, in Monsey, 2ANYS's official news conference to announce their lawsuit against Rockland County had kicked off, with Waldman and Melanson both addressing media.

Their goal is to force the state to comply with the 2008 Supreme Court decision, DC v. Heller, a decision which protects an individual's right to keep and bear arms, unconnected with service in a militia, for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.

A video explaining their mission can be viewed below.

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