Nationwide Unrest And Riots Drive Jewish Veterans To Arm Themselves And Protect Their Own
I received an unexpected message this week that gave me a new sense of hope that I wasn’t, in fact, alone in my thinking about the current tension in our country posing a threat to the Jewish community. The Twitter Direct Message came from Leibel Mangel, someone I have admired for so long.
Mangel served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat soldier. He was a lone soldier, meaning he chose to serve as an American. He enlisted at 19, leaving his hometown of Cincinnati to fight terrorism and antisemitism on one of the most hostile battlefields.
What’s more, Mangel’s grandfather is one of the youngest living survivors of Auschwitz. The issue of antisemitism is personal for him and he’s made it his life’s mission to be outspoken against it.
His battle didn’t end when he hung up his IDF uniform and returned to the States. Rather, Mangel’s fight was now to be fought, although differently, on his home soil.
Directing a new organization under “Magen Am” called “The Lone Soldier Veterans Program,” Mangel has set out to train Jewish veterans from both the U.S. military and IDF to protect Jewish communities and institutions.
“As anti-semitism and civil unrest continues to rise at alarming rates, we have made the decision to stop relying on others to protect us,” Mangel told me.
Over a period of twelve months, the veterans learn security tactics including training in firearms and Krav Maga, a self-defense system used by the IDF. The program also gives a purpose to those returning from their service, which is often very difficult and contributes to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly seen in veterans.
The group mobilized trained security from within the Jewish community when rioters in Los Angeles targeted entire Jewish neighborhoods and many local Kosher stores and synagogues. According to reports, the group responded to 10 break-ins and received hundreds of Whats-App alerts at the time. The group also reportedly stopped vandals from destroying a local synagogue. Unfortunately, many others were ruined.
“History has not been kind to those who can not secure and protect their own community from within. We will utilize our most skilled protectors, our military veterans, to ensure the safety of our community and the future of our people,” he added.
Although many rioters have called for defunding the police, the Jewish community sees the police as an ally amid the uptick in violence and chaos. Mangel is one of them and his organization works in concert with local police departments to ensure community safety.
“We are very proud of our relationship with our Police Departments. Our local police play a vital role in the safety of our Jewish community. We have been in constant communication and look forward to continuing to coordinate with law enforcement at every level to keep our community safe,” he explained.
What happened in Los Angeles is just part of the story and it’s a reason why Mangel hopes to not only bring security to the Jewish community in California, but to Jewish communities across the nation.
When riots started in the streets of D.C. after the tragic death of George Floyd, the groups targeted my favorite stores and neighborhood restaurants, but also my spirit, my synagogue. I still walk by the building to see the shadow of a hateful phrase spraypainted on the historic building that I don’t think will ever come off unless repainted.
We always had a guard at the front to protect us and I never felt unsafe even after similar instances of vandalism. In fact, looking back on my childhood, it wasn’t at all abnormal to have bomb threats to our Jewish schools or community centers. That was normal.
Only recently, as I came to learn what those groups taking aim at my synogague truly want to achieve, I decided to take a course on personal protection and safety. I never felt compelled to, I sometimes floated the idea among my non-Jewish friends who encouraged me to, but I never even took the time to understand why I needed to. I think that’s a flaw of my community and sometimes it’s not even a flaw, but just that we are optimistic and try to see the good in this world.
When Mangel called me, it was when I realized this.
As we’ve learned throughout our history, reality hits us often when it’s too late when things are already dangerous. Right now, there are calls to defund the police and anti-law enforcement rhetoric is at an all-time high. This, combined with a rise in Jew-hatred, makes it difficult to know who will be there for us. I’ve come to realize that it may be us that needs to save our own.
I’ve spoken with European Jews, the ones who haven’t yet fled to Israel but certainly consider it, who struggle to get full support from their governments in defending their synagogues, schools, and businesses. Often, they’re funding the majority of their own security.
In the Netherlands, for example, 2019 saw a 35 percent increase in antisemitic incidents. Still, the Jewish community’s calls for extra support have fallen on deaf ears in the Dutch parliament. And although the House of Representatives voted in July to establish a national antisemitism coordinator, and passed a number of initiatives to combat the hate, a motion to fund security for synagogues failed.
“Usually, us Jews in the European diaspora, we in a way, look up to American Jews where a community seems to be a lot more vibrant, established, bigger of course, for obvious reasons. But, now, with antisemitism making a comeback in the United States, this is something that, ironically, we in Europe have more experience with in many ways,” Aron Vrieler, a spokesman for the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) told me.
Vrieler added that there is some support from many municipalities such as Amsterdam and the central government allocates funds for security as well. But a majority of the funds, which is roughly estimated to be about 70 percent (1.5 million Euros) of the Jewish community’s security costs, comes from the community itself, he said.
He explained, “As you may understand, this is hardly an unnecessary luxury in Europe. The Netherlands was spared fatal antisemitic terrorist attacks in the recent years, unlike Germany, France and Belgium. However, borders are completely open. The risks here are hardly different than in those countries.”
With three major antisemitic attacks in 2019 on a Jewish business in Jersey City, a Rabbi’s home in Monsey, and a synagogue in Poway, gathering as Jews as a community is under threat in America, and it’s a threat to our lives. Antisemitism is happening at a rate that feels like on a daily basis. Luckily, our situation is still better than in European countries.
As the amazing Bari Weiss once said, “Jews here have experienced the best diaspora experience that we’ve ever had in all of Jewish history.” Our founders, she said, viewed themselves “as new Israelites starting a new promised land” and supported the full integration of Jewish people in America.
That very Jewish experience in America our founding fathers set to create for us is exactly what Mangel wants to protect. If you want to learn more or get involved with Magen Am and the Lone Soldier Program, click here.