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Nationwide Unrest And Riots Drive Jewish Veterans To Arm Themselves And Protect Their Own

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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.

https://twitter.com/LeibelMangel/status/1123994199647506436

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.

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Cuomo says he’ll ‘fully cooperate’ with NY AG’s review of sexual harassment claims

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Wednesday that he will “fully cooperate” with the state attorney general’s independent review into sexual harassment allegations made against the currently scandal-ridden governor, saying, “I fully support a woman’s right to come forward.”

Last Wednesday, Lindsey Boylan, who served in his administration for over three years, accused Cuomo of suggesting to her on a 2017 flight that they play strip poker, inappropriate touching, and kissing her on the lips without her consent.

RELATED: ‘Let’s play strip poker’: Fmr. Cuomo aide accuses NY governor of sexual harassment

Following Boylan’s accusations, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett alleged the governor indicated interest in having an affair with her while she was serving in his administration as a health policy adviser. In a Saturday New York Times report, Bennett told the newspaper that Cuomo asked her if she had “ever been with an older man,” adding that “age doesn’t matter” in relationships.

At Wednesday’s press briefing, the Empire State governor addressed the accusations leveled against him over the past seven days by three women and New York Attorney General Letitia James’ (D) independent review into those claims, which she announced on Monday was formally proceeding.

RELATED: De Blasio ‘sickened’ by Cuomo sexual harassment claims

“As you probably know, the attorney general is doing an independent review, and I will fully cooperate with that review,” Cuomo said at the beginning of his statement. “Now, the lawyers say I shouldn’t say anything when you have a pending review until that review is over. I understand that, I’m a lawyer, too. But, I want New Yorkers to hear from me directly on this.”

“First, I fully support a woman’s right to come forward,” the governor began. “And I think it should be encouraged in every way. I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional and I truly and deeply apologize for it. I feel awful about it, and frankly I am embarrassed by it, and that’s not easy to say. But that’s the truth.”

This echoes what Cuomo said in a Sunday statement about the allegations, in which he stated he “may have been insensitive” during his tenure but charged his accusers of misinterpreting his actions, saying, “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation… I am truly sorry about that.”

RELATED: Cuomo responds to sexual harassment claims, saying he ‘may have been insensitive’

During his Wednesday remarks, Cuomo iterated “I never touched anyone inappropriately,” repeated that sentence, then said “I never knew at the time that I was making anyone feel uncomfortable” and repeated that one too.

“And I certainly never, ever meant to offend anyone or hurt anyone or cause anyone any pain. That is the last thing I would ever want to do,” he continued. “I ask the people of this state to wait for the facts from the attorney general’s report before forming an opinion. Get the facts, please, before forming an opinion.”

“I also want you to know that I have learned from what has been an incredibly difficult situation for me as well as other people, and I’ve learned an important lesson,” the governor said at the end of his statement. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry for whatever pain I caused anyone, I never intended it, and I will be the better for this experience.”

Amid Boylan and Bennett’s allegations, another report of Cuomo sexually harassing a woman has cropped up. On Monday, a woman named Anna Ruch accused the governor of placing his hands on her cheeks—without her consent—at a 2019 wedding reception and asking if he could kiss her. A photograph of the two together at the event has also been circulating on social media.

RELATED: ‘Eat the whole sausage: Gov. Cuomo in hot water for resurfaced video

Asked at Wednesday’s briefing about the pictures that have resurfaced of him being touchy with people, particularly that of him and Ruch, the governor claimed that it is his way of greeting people.

“I understand the opinion of—and feelings of—Ms. Ruch,” Cuomo said. “You can find hundreds of pictures of me making the same gesture with hundreds of people—women, children, men, etc. You can go find hundreds of pictures of me kissing people. […] It is my usual and customary way of greeting.”

Moreover, the governor said that his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, would do the same thing.

“By the way, it was my father’s way of greeting people,” Cuomo said, explaining, “You’re the governor of the state, you want people to feel comfortable, you want to reach out to them.”

He also mentioned that he kisses and hugs legislators and noted that at an event in Queens the other day he hugged pastors and state assembly members.

Furthermore, the governor said that his intent “doesn’t matter,” saying, “What it matters is if anybody was offended by it.”

“But if they were offended by it, then it was wrong,” he added, going on to say that if they were offended or hurt by it, he apologizes.

MORE ON CUOMO: NY dem says state legislature is ‘inching toward’ Cuomo impeachment probe

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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