Family of Hanukkah attack victim: “Stand up and stop this hatred”

The family of a great-grandfather stabbed multiple times during a Hanukkah attack at the home of a New York rabbi spoke out Thursday morning, calling for an end to hatred. The family released a graphic photo of Josef Neumann Wednesday showing the severe injuries he sustained in the knife attack Saturday at the home where dozens of congregants had gathered to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah. 

Grafton Thomas, 37, is facing charges of attempted murder and burglary as well as federal hate crime charges in the attack that wounded five, including Neumann.

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Speaking to reporters, Neumann’s daughter Nicky Kohen made an emotional appeal for a stop to hatred against anyone of any religion, race or orientation. The attack in Monsey, about 30 miles north of New York City, came amid a string of anti-Semitic attacks in the New York area.

“It has to stop,” Kohen said. “You guys, I’m begging you if you are watching this, please stand up and stop this hatred, it cannot keep going on.”

Kohen said Neumann was stabbed repeatedly and has remained unconscious since the attack. He has a fractured skull and a shattered arm, and sustained a slice wound through his neck, Kohen said. An earlier statement released by the family said the knife penetrated his brain. 

Neumann’s “prognosis is not good,” Kohen said, and doctors “do not have high hopes for him.”

“If he wakes up, he may never be able to walk, or talk, or even process speech again,” Kohen said.

She said Neumann is currently in surgery so doctors can insert a tracheostomy tube to help with breathing. She said it was a difficult decision for the family to release the photo showing Neumann’s injuries, but that they wanted people to understand “how severe this attack was.”

Kohen said the family remains hopeful despite the dire prognosis.

“As a family, we believe that God has a plan, and we guess he’s a big part of it,” Kohen said. 

Kohen said her father formerly operated a fish market in Rockland County and described him as a “people person,” known to help strangers in need. Kohen said she is one of Neumann’s seven children, and an earlier statement released by the family said he has a great-grandchild. Neumann turned 72 on Dec. 30, Kohen said.

Kohen also recognized the suffering of the other victims who were wounded and the congregants who were at the home during the attack.

“The fear and trauma is just ongoing,” Kohen said.

The federal hate crime charges say Thomas, his face covered with a scarf, entered the home and said words to the effect of, “Nobody is leaving.” He then allegedly took out a machete and started stabbing and slashing people. 

People in the home recalled throwing a table at the attacker and one took down his license plate number as he fled the scene, leading to the suspect’s arrest about two hours later in New York City. Police found a blood-stained 18-inch machete in his car, according to the complaint. Investigators later found anti-Semitic writings in Thomas’s Greenwood Lake home and web searches on his phone for terms including “Why did Hitler hate the Jews,” the federal complaint says.

Anti-Semitic references found in Hanukkah stabbing suspect’s journals

A lawyer for Thomas, however, says he believes the attack was driven by mental illness, not anti-Semitism. The lawyer, Michael Sussman, said Thomas was experiencing auditory hallucinations and may not have been taking his medication for depression and psychosis.

Sussman said he reviewed some of Thomas’ writings and said they showed the “ramblings of a disturbed individual,” and said they did not suggest any anti-Semitic sentiments. 

“This is the action of an individual who for a long time has decompensated and has been treated in mental health facilities,” he said.

He said he has requested a mental health evaluation of his client.

Thomas is charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, to which he has pleaded not guilty. He also faces federal hate crimes charges of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill.  A grand jury is expected to review the attempted murder charges against him Friday.

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