As a Jewish family visiting South Florida from New Jersey walked along Collins Avenue in Bal Harbour earlier this week, four men in an SUV began hurling insults — and garbage — at them.
“They pulled up and started shouting, ‘Free Palestine, f--- you Jew, die Jew,” Eric Orgen said Friday. “They also said, ‘We’re going to rape your daughter. We’re going to rape your wife.’ Who yells that?”
This incident, which is being investigated by Bal Harbour police, came days before Israel and Hamas announced a cease-fire to end the recent spate of violence between Israel and Gaza. Over a span of 11 days — the cease-fire began Friday — Israel targeted militants across Gaza with airstrikes, while Palestine fired thousands of rockets at Israel.
The violence led to the deaths of at least 230 people in Gaza, including 65 children, and 12 people in Israel, including two children, according to news reports.
The tension in the Middle East has caused “a dangerous and drastic surge in anti-Jewish hate,” in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“We are tracking acts of harassment, vandalism and violence as well as a torrent of online abuse,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement Thursday. “It’s happening around the world — from London to Los Angeles, from France to Florida, in big cities like NYC and in small towns, and across every social media platform.”
— ADL (@ADL) May 20, 2021
South Florida has seen a number of anti-Semitic incidents recently. Earlier this month, several people who are part of a small anti-Semitic hate group — the Herald is not publishing its name because the group’s goal is publicity — drew swastikas and anti-Semitic slurs on a van in Coconut Grove. The group was also seen in Dania Beach and disrupted a pro-Israel rally in Boca Raton.
In December, someone hurled anti-Semitic slurs at a father and son in Miami Beach.
In a recent ADL audit, New York had the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2020 with 336 incidents. California ranked third with 289 incidents. Florida had 127 incidents.
Bal Harbour incident
The Bal Harbour incident happened about 8 p.m. Tuesday, just as the Jewish holiday Shavuot — which commemorates the revelation of the Torah on Mount Sinai — came to an end.
Orgen said he, his wife Karen and 16-year-old daughter Jamie came to South Florida May 12 for a week vacation. They were staying in Surfside and were out for a walk with a friend in Bal Harbour, when they were approached. Orgen said he and his friend were wearing yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish head covering.
“I made sure my wife, my daughter and our friend were behind me, so that if anything happened I would take the brunt of it,” said Orgen, who is a business consultant and volunteer EMT. “I was going to protect my family.”
The insults were interrupted by a man in an Audi, who was behind the SUV and had his windows open. The man pulled out his gun and the driver of the SUV took off, Orgen said, calling the man “their hero.”
“In my opinion, it’s a hate crime,” Orgen said. “It’s a biased crime. The only way these crimes will stop is if we punish people appropriately.“
Bal Harbour Police Chief Raleigh Flowers said the department has “very good investigative leads,” and is working hard to identify the men involved.
“We want all of our visitors and residents to be safe,” he said. “It’s unfortunate in 2021 that we still have these kinds of incidents happening in our country.”
In 2019, a jogger was arrested after police said he spit at an elderly couple and threatened to sexually assault another group of Jewish people in Bal Harbour. He was later convicted and sentenced to time served and five years probation, records show.
Bal Harbour Mayor Gabriel Groisman said it’s important to “respond in a very strong fashion to these kinds of incidents because we don’t want South Florida to become New York or Los Angeles or anywhere else where these attacks are far worse.”
“We have to stop them in their tracks,” Groisman said. “There is no question that they were intentionally trying to intimidate and harass the Jewish community.”