While Rabbi Grossman’s sentiments are certainly heartwarming and worthy, and I tend to agree with Rabbi Stern’s analysis of the Adler-Askari incident, I don’t think this story proves that anti-Semitism is rampant on the Upper West Side of New York City–only that violent and ignorant punks exist anywhere and will happily beat the daylights out of a total stranger at the slightest, or no, provocation at all.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to take away in the slightest from Askari’s bravery. Intervening when someone is in danger, putting yourself in harm’s way for a stranger is an act of heroism. And when the victim belongs to a group toward which you might have some adversity, then that act is all the more heroic.
As a rabbi and a parent it’s very challenging: we tell our kids to be careful about getting involved in dangerous situations and yet we want them to have the moral courage to take a stand. There’s a great temptation not to get involved, to stay safe, and we could imagine this same situation having gone tragically different: things become more heated, one of the attackers has a gun, and then we might have a very different take on this “miracle.”
And yet: when our next-door neighbor’s daughter was brutally attacked a few months ago in downtown Philadelphia, a 23-year-old woman named Leslie Rogers ran toward her attacker, when the natural thing to do might well have been to run the other way. She scared the attacker off, saving Steph from further injury, and possibly far worse. When interviewed about her act of heroism, Leslie Rogers said, “I remember, while I was running, thinking maybe this isn’t the smartest thing to do. But I didn’t want to wake up the next morning and not be proud of how I handled it.”
Hassan Askari himself said something remarkably similar about the incident: “My friends are proud of me for what I did, but I know every one of them would have done exactly the same. I did what any regular person would do.”
Hopefully the Leslie Rogers and Hassan Askaris of this world will, by their brave example, make this vision come true.