'It's a scary time' for L.A. Jews as attacks bring heightened security, anxiety

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 22, 2021 - - L.A.P.D. Sgt. Kenneth Price, a Senior Lead Supervisor, keeps a watchful eye over members of the Jewish community heading to Temple along La Brea Blvd. in the Fairfax District on May 22. 2021. Members of the Jewish community are concerned over the recent attacks this week to Jewish residents in Los Angeles amid Israeli-Palestinian violence in the Middle East. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)
LAPD Sgt. Kenneth Price keeps watch over members of the Jewish community heading to temple Saturday along La Brea in the Fairfax District. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Remi Franklin, a jujitsu practitioner and security volunteer, stood guard on La Brea Avenue on Saturday afternoon as the neighborhood’s highly visible Orthodox Jewish population made their way home from Shabbat services.

Franklin, who is Jewish and grew up in Malibu, smiled broadly as people walked past him.

“Good shabbos!” he said. “Stay safe!”

People smiled back, appreciative.

It was the second day in a row that Franklin, 37, and other volunteers had come to the Fairfax District to offer protection to a community on edge.

Some stood on the sidewalk offering to walk people to and from synagogue, asking if they felt safe, and just wishing them a happy sabbath. Others were more incognito, sitting in parked cars.

“Last night, seeing you guys walk people home, it was surreal,” said one man who stopped to thank Franklin. “We’re proud to have you.”

Franklin said he felt called to offer his support after multiple recent antisemitic attacks, including a violent attack on diners at a West Hollywood area sushi restaurant.

A video capturing part of the Tuesday night attack shows people in a caravan of cars flying Palestinian flags yelling, “F— you” and “You guys should be ashamed of yourselves” as they drive by the restaurant.

Police arrested one man in connection with the incident Friday. The man was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon, police said. Detectives will recommend additional hate-crime charges.

The assault came after a deadly battle in the Gaza Strip and Israel that escalated tensions in the U.S. among supporters of Israel and those who back the Palestinians. A fragile cease-fire took effect Friday.

The day after the sushi restaurant incident, Franklin took to Instagram with an offer to help: “If anyone in the Jewish community in greater L.A. is concerned about walking to Shul or home ... I’ll walk with you.”

“Just ask,” he wrote. “I don’t care the day, hour or time. … Since nobody will step up ... I will, my friends will and your community will.”

The reaction was huge, he said. There are now groups of volunteers — both Jewish and non-Jewish — keeping watch in neighborhoods across the Southland, in other states, and even abroad, he said.

“It’s jiu-jitsu, it’s boxing, it’s mixed martial arts, and it’s people that are just friends with them and want to do something,” he said. “We have ladies who are former dancers and gymnasts who are walking with people because it makes the women feel more comfortable.”

“These people are just here to enjoy family and walk to shul and walk home, and they should have that safety,” he said of the Jewish community he was watching over.

On Friday night, Franklin saw an 80-year-old rabbi and his grandson walking in the Fairfax District and walked them home because they were scared. The rabbi asked Franklin to return to his home Saturday morning to walk them to the synagogue, so he did so.

“Why does he need this? What did any of them do to deserve this?” Franklin said.

Franklin’s group of volunteers weren’t the only ones providing extra protection to the Jewish community Saturday. Los Angeles police officers were doing extra patrols of the neighborhood, and a large mobile command center was parked near Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue.

Guards with the Jewish security organization Magen Am — which means “nation’s shield” in Hebrew — also kept watch.

But many people remained fearful.

“I have never felt so scared being in Los Angeles,” said Steve Goldstein, 35, as he walked along La Brea Avenue.

Goldstein said that Monday night, a group of people came to his synagogue off La Brea shouting, “Death to Jews!” and swearing. A friend who was walking alone was chased by a large group of cars flying Palestinian flags, their occupants wearing keffiyeh scarves, he said.

Goldstein said he was furious because it feels like few people care about antisemitic attacks or the fear gripping the Jewish community. He said the media, including the Los Angeles Times, fanned the flames with “biased” reporting sympathetic to Palestinians.

Goldstein’s 11-year-old daughter, who was walking with him, said her mother would not let her walk or play near busy streets out of fear that someone would attack her for being Jewish.

“We see tremendous outrage from the media any time you have attacks against people of color or Asians. We don’t see that outrage when there are attacks against Jews,” said a 39-year-old Jewish man who was part of a group walking with Goldstein.

Shani Kanner, who lives in Toronto and was visiting family in Los Angeles, said she is “very self-conscious” right now about being Jewish when she is in public because she does not want to draw negative attention or be attacked.

“I’m more aware now,” she said. “They make it personal. I didn’t do anything. I was born Jewish.”

Jonathan Lipmicki, 30, helps protection for members of the Jewish community.
"It's a scary time in the Jewish community," said Jonathan Lipmicki, 30, who is part of a group that's providing protection for members of the Jewish community in the Fairfax District. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Among the volunteers Saturday was actor Jonathan Lipnicki, 30, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blackbelt who has trained in Muay Thai and attends shabbat dinners with Franklin. He said the group of volunteers had talked with police, who were aware of what they were doing.

“A lot of people are definitely scared,” he said. “It’s a scary time for the Jewish community.”

Saturday was Lipnicki’s first volunteer shift. He had been present in the area since 7 a.m. and spent most of the day there.

An older Orthodox man stopped and thanked him.

“Unbelievable. We appreciate you so much,” the man said. “You’re here with the MMA group? You’re not scared?”

“No, you gotta do the right thing, man,” Lipnicki replied.

“It’s good to have a presence here,” he said with a sigh after the man passed.

He said he was thinking of his grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor, who told him to always do his part.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.