Around 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Rabbi Shua Rosenstein stepped outside the Alice L. Bender Chabad House at Yale to make a phone call when he was attacked by two teenagers.
Rosenstein –– who serves as the Jewish Life Advisor of Chabad –– said that the perpetrators approached him in his driveway and threatened him with a gun while shouting anti-Semitic slurs and expletives. The two 16-year-olds demanded that Rosenstein hand over his belongings and then knocked him to the ground, beating and kicking the rabbi. Rosenstein told the News that neighbors around the Lynwood area, where the Chabad House is located, responded to his screams and appeared outside the house when the teenagers snatched Rosenstein’s car keys from his coat pocket and escaped with his car. Later that night, NHPD spokesmen Anthony Duff said police arrested five teenagers found inside the stolen vehicle after it crashed in East Haven. In addition to other charges of robbery and assault, the two individuals who assaulted Rosenstein were charged with hate crimes.
“The first one I want to thank is God,” Rosenstein told the News in an interview. “This could have been a real disaster. I’m grateful that God was looking out for me and I was able to come home to my wife and children and my community.”
According to Rosenstein, officers and detectives arrived on the scene within minutes after he called them. As Rosenstein’s Audi contained a built-in tracking device, officers traced the car to the I-95 highway, where the teenagers were speeding towards East Haven. The New Haven Police Department coordinated with the East Haven department to pursue the car until it was “disabled” in a vehicle collision, said Duff.
Five people — ranging from ages 15 to 17 — were detained by the NHPD after they were removed from Rosenstein’s vehicle and found to have suffered no injuries from the crash. A handgun was seized from inside the vehicle and ammunition was found on one of their persons.
All five were charged with robbery and larceny in the first degree, as well as weapon-in-a-motor-vehicle and conspiracy charges. The two individuals who approached Rosenstein outside the Chabad house were additionally charged with hate crimes and assault in the third degree. According to Duff, the majority of the teenagers were found to have existing juvenile histories, and three of them had faced multiple arrests by the NHPD and the Yale Police Department in the last nine months for stealing vehicles.
“Anyone who knows Rabbi Shua knows what an incredibly important figure he is in the Yale Community,” Chabad President Sam Feldman ’22 told the News. “I think it’s important to acknowledge this for what it is –– a hate crime. It’s horrifying to think that this happened anywhere, much less a block from campus on a street which is usually populated almost exclusively by students.”
Chabad at Yale is an organization that “seeks to help shape the next generation of engaged leaders within the Jewish community and within American society at large,” according to the website of the Yale Chaplain’s Office. Rosenstein has been a part of campus life with Chabad for 18 years and lives at the house with his wife Sara and their five children.
During the typical academic year, Chabad hosts Friday evening Shabbat dinners, populated by Jewish and non-Jewish students alike. Feldman told the News that these dinners were often a weekly highlight for students, and that Rosenstein opened the doors to Chabad every day so students have a “place that feels like home.”
Norman Bender ’67, chairman and benefactor of Chabad at Yale, said that a violent incident of this nature had never occurred at Chabad before. Bender speculated that the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic — which have rendered the streets of New Haven far emptier than usual — may have contributed to the crime. Security footage released this week shows two individuals crossing the road to the Chabad house on a deserted street, and then racing into Rosenstein’s car and driving away.
During its regularly scheduled events, Bender said that Chabad typically implements rigorous security measures, but as the University has largely shut down for the semester, those procedures are currently not in place. Bender said that he believed the teenagers were looking for any isolated individual to rob, but also noted that he thought the attack came at a time of increased hostility towards the Jewish community.
“[Prejudiced persons] — be it white against black, black against white, Jews against non-Jews, Christians against non-Christians, Muslims against non-Muslims — are truly odious brothers and sisters under the skin,” Bender told the News. “[Prejudiced persons] are all alike, just with different uniforms.”
Rosenstein is in the process of recovering from his injuries, including a serious concussion. His doctor advised him to stay home instead of seeking immediate medical attention, in order to avoid risking COVID-19 infection at a hospital, he said.
Rosenstein said that the attack had not made him warier of New Haven specifically, but had made him feel “unsafe in general.” Nevertheless, he commended the rapid response of the NHPD despite the department operating at modified capacity during the pandemic.
The assault comes amid a distinct spike in violent crime in the city of New Haven. As various branches of the city are scrambling to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city has seen an uptick in criminal activity over the past two weeks.
On March 18, a 17-year-old female was hit by a bullet inside her bedroom that came in from the street and went through the wall, according to Duff. The next day, an 18-year-old male suffered heavy bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds during an incident in the Newhallville neighborhood. Less than a week later, on March 24, the city saw the kidnapping and abduction of a woman at gunpoint.
Last weekend, three separate shooting incidents occurred in the city, all of which resulted in non-life-threatening injuries. But on March 25, New Haven saw its second homicide of the year as a 24-year-old man was shot on Whalley Avenue in the drive-thru lane of a restaurant.
Chabad at Yale is located at 36 Lynwood St.
Meera Shoaib | firstname.lastname@example.org