25 May JEWISH MAN BEATEN IN MANHATTAN: AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH BORGEN
A Jewish man heading to a pro-Israel rally says he thought he was going to die after a gang of pro- Palestinian demonstrators assaulted him in Midtown Manhattan, punching him to the pavement and then pummeling him while he was down while yelling anti-Semitic epithets.
Joseph Borgen, 29, an accountant who lives on the Upper East Side, was wearing a grey kippa and walking toward Times Square around 6:30pm last Thursday when a young man with a black bandana started chasing him.
Ari Hirsch from The Jewish Vues met up with Joseph this past Sunday at his parents house in Lawrence, where he grew up, for an exclusive interview to discuss what transpired last Thursday.
How did you develop your love for Eretz Yisrael? It probably stems from that year in Israel. My family didn’t go to Israel when I was a kid. I went once for my bar mitzvah with my grandparents, but that was really it. Growing up I went to HALB Elementary, HAFTAR High School, and to Reishit for my year in Israel. There’s something special about going to Israel for the year. You really just have a lot of free time to explore the land and experience the holidays there. Yom Yerushalyim and Purim in Israel was like nothing I had ever experienced before! Having that experience and seeing such achdus really instilled in me my love for Israel.
Please tell us what happened last Thursday evening. It’s ironic because I’d gone to a rally at the same location, at the same time the week before. The routine was also the same. I took the subway by myself and was texting my friends. As I got close to the rally, I saw from the corner of my eye someone chasing me. Before I could even bat an eye, I was surrounded by a group of people who proceeded to kick me, hit me, and beat me with flagpoles and crutches. There were eight to ten people taking part in the beatdown and they were shouting anti-Semitic slurs such as: ‘You filthy Jew. We’re going to_____ kill you. Go back to Israel. Hamas is going to kill you. I was on the ground cowering, and, I’ll try to put this as eloquently as possible, I thought they were going to the bathroom on my face. It was actually pepper spray. For a minute straight, they were using pepper spray on me and my whole face was burning; I couldn’t see for hours. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was really going to die. My whole face was on fire. I couldn’t see. In the hospital, they literally had to drain out my eyes. My skin’s still on fire in certain places, Now I’m just banged up and sore, but after watching the videos of what happened to me, I feel fortunate and lucky that it wasn’t worse.
Did you say anything to them? Did you provoke them in any way? At that point, no. I was on my way to the protest, so at that point no, I wasn’t going around yelling crazy things. I was just walking down the street and the next thing you know I had all these guys on me.
Did you have an Israeli flag on you? Besides the yarmulke on your head, was there anything that said you were going to the rally? I guess that was the presumption because of the area I was in, but other than my yarmulke there was no other factor distinguishing me from anyone else. I wasn’t wearing a flag, nor was I wearing any Israel apparel. I was wearing my kippah and I had a knapsack on because I was supposed to play basketball after the rally, but that was it. My kippah was the one thing that made me stand out in the crowd.
Thinking back on the incident, is there anything you would have done differently? I just think it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I would still go to a rally tomorrow if there was one, but I’d probably meet up with friends or something. I would still proudly wear my kippah and go. I am a little skittish now, but hopefully I would still be comfortable going, but I wouldn’t go by myself. Like I said, I was at a rally the prior week and I made it there and got home without any problems. So going to the second rally a week later, I really didn’t put much thought into any issues that could arise.
What happened after the incident? I remember bits and pieces of what happened. There were some officers in white uniforms, and once I felt them grabbing me, I felt a little more okay, like I made it. Then the ambulance came 10-15 minutes later and took me to Bellevue; they were amazing. I must have met with 15- 20 different detectives from the highest level of hate crime units. From what I’ve seen in the news, they released images of five suspects; they already have one in custody and G-d willing justice will prevail and we’ll see what happens.
What was your reaction when you saw they caught the guy and he said he would do it again? That night I knew that they had one guy in custody, but I didn’t know who it was. As soon as I saw that it was a guy with crutches, I knew that was one of them. Last night, someone sent me the article where he said he would do it again. Someone else sent me a video where he got out on bail and when they picked him up from jail, they put him up on their shoulders. I’m trying to get over it and that video and article make it harder; it makes me sick to my stomach.
There’s a rally happening soon. What would you tell people going to this rally and other rallies in the future?
I would say at this point to go with other people and to make sure you’re with a group. I’m not saying you’re 100% safe, though I would have said that prior to getting beat up. But if I had the energy right now, I’d go to this rally. Just make sure you’re safe, go with a crowd of people, and if you’re walking around, make sure you check every corner for a police officer or a store that you can run to.
What was your family’s reaction?
They were in shock and blown away that this happened to me. My father met me in the hospital. Once they saw I was intact and nothing was broken, just banged up and bruised, I think it hit them what could have happened. I think they took some solace in that and they’re trying to move forward.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
I just want something positive to come out of this. Someone sent me a picture in the city. There was some ad that came out #nohateagainstjews, so that’s comforting to see. I saw the Miami Heat say something. I don’t know if it’s because of what happened to me, but either way I hope something good comes out of this. Hopefully this won’t happen to anyone else because this is truly horrible.