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Williamsburg Chasid Forgives His Attacker
"I have not one ounce of hatred," says Nochem Elek to man who broke his nose.
Special To The Jewish Week
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My name is Nochum Elek, I am a Torah Jew, and a psychotherapist. Last Friday night I was assaulted on the street I live on, for reasons unknown to me or anyone else to the best of my knowledge. Some people think that it was a hate crime, others a gang initiation and some are spinning tall tales that I’m at fault for being either a slum lord, the owner of a business who didn’t pay his workers on Friday, or even a Public School teacher hated by his students.

I don't have enough information to reach a conclusion about this incident apart from the fact that it was an act of violence from one human being toward another, and I believe that this is all that matters. Everything that happens to us has a deeper meaning. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov talks about the "hidden messages in all things", the way God communicates with us through the textures of everyday life.

What I need to figure out as a Torah Jew and as a healer is, what is God telling me, and what He wants me to do? All my life I have been a champion of the underdog, respectful of other ethnicities, religions and life styles, while at the same time not compromising my own. The first question I asked my attacker was "Why are you doing this?" But in his rage he could not hear me and kept hitting me until people came to my rescue.

What generates such blind hatred? How do we stop the violence and learn to live with people who think, speak and dress differently than ourselves? It is common knowledge that the root of racism, bias and intolerance is ignorance and fear. Therefore an important step in the right direction is for us to learn about one another’s culture, values and humanness; what one contemporary Jewish leader has called the “dignity of difference.”

When people try to explain that the attack was directed at me as an individual, they are avoiding hearing “the heavenly voice that comes forth from Mount Horeb and calls: return to me, wayward children…” They refuse to ask themselves “in what way do we share responsibility for this? And what can we do to prevent it in the future?” A reporter asked me if “I wanted to see more police surveillance in our community."  But I think that the true answer is that we urgently need to build bridges of mutual understanding and respect.

Finally I had like to say to my attacker that “I have not one ounce of hatred against you in my heart”. My uncle was shot at eighteen by a Nazi firing squad. After the war the police asked my Grandmother, “Madame Elek we’ve caught the people who shot your son, what should we do with them?” To which she replied “Enough mothers have lost their sons. Send them home."  You see I come from a tradition of forgiveness.

You have the potential to turn your life around for the good. I deeply hope you can find it within yourself to embrace life and the world we live in together in spite of all the hardship you may have encountered.

Last Update:

12/11/2011 - 06:21
anti-Semitism, assault, bias crime, Williamsburg
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I was a bit dismayed to read the 2 very negative comments in the of this section. If I can truly forgive the man that raped me, which I have, and which God helped me understand how to do, then its totally possible for this man to forgive the one that attacked him. And God blesses him more for being able to do this, than if he had posted a letter raving about anti-Semites. The truth is, people act out of anger and fear because of their own ignorance and inner conviction that they are not enough - and they are angry at the world for making them feel this way. The only way that one can begin to heal any of that is by responding with the compassion and gentleness they were not shown. I am a teacher, I work with many kids who come from violent or neglected backgrounds.... most of them just want to know that someone cares enough to reach out, even if they are doing the wrong thing. This attacker was one of the ones that no one reached out towards early enough. You cant heal this kind of thing with anger. You heal it with love and kindness. The writer gets it & needs to be applauded.

Nochum--I'm happy to hear you're OK, and wowed at your depth of perspective!

Whether to return violence with violence is not n easy question. In the moment, the civilized man is at a disadvantage, but to be able to maintain a civilized outlook and an open mind after the fact is a difficult thing.

Neil--Anti-semites ALREADY fear Jews! that's why they do what they do.

In a quote from the Torah, " Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord, I will repay". This way someone can surrender the matter into G-ds hands and not be caught up in hatred and thoughts of revenge. Ultimately, I believe, G-d is in charge of the whole universe and every experience can be an opportunity to draw closer to Him if we allow it. And for those who believe in reincarnation (I among them) we may be not be aware of things that we have done in previous lifetimes that may justify these kinds of experiences. If we don't take it any farther, the debt has been paid, and we are free to grow further Spiritually.

I was surprised to hear from a mutual friend of the author of this violent encounter. I publicly commend the author's peaceable, non-violent attitude.

It is one thing to desire justice, another to to target a perpetrator with judgement or retribution, and still another, complicated matter, to determine a course of action that retains dignity and hope. Difference, yes, I am with you in your response and am moved by your standard.

In Recalcitrance to Revenge,


Your loving kindness and spiritual understanding shines like a brilliant light on a very dark road. Thank you for opening so many eyes to the possibility of not returning hate for hate. It is a high level of living, one worth aspiring to.

as much as i try to identify with the reasoning of this person that was attacked just because he was jewish (lets not kid ourselves) i have a big problem with it.When we respect ourselves we are respected by others, when we protect ourselves we will be protected(by the almighty)
we can not afford to look the other way, history has proven that. If not for ourselves we owe it to our children.
we should never confuse this with forgiving our brothers, who unintentionally wronged us or for someone who expressed remorse for their actions.
lets not over guilt ourselves to the point of stupidity!

This is the reason to this day that anti-Semites don't fear Jews!!!!

the torah says ;;zochor ess asher uso lecho amulek ;;weforgive only those who deserve to be forgivin, having mercy on the vicked is being cruel on the innocent'''

It's no surprise that this feel-good, turn-the-other-cheek essay would be printed in this venue.

None of us have the right nor the ability to truly forgive those who engage in such despicable acts. We need to hope and pray that justic will be meted out to such perpetrators. We pray for ultimate justice every time we say the verse from Joel, cited in the prayer Av HaRachamim, stating that G-d Himself will not forgive nor forget. Neither should we.

We all have the right to respond in any way we feel is right. Nochum chose to turn the other cheek, some people choose to fight, others to wet their pants. While fighting back is the expected pop-culture thing to do, it really doesn't change anything. No more than turning the other cheek does. The conditions that drove the attacker remain unchanged. If the attacker's nose was broken instead, he would have felt justified for his attack.

Anti-semites claim that Jews are aggressive and arrogant and manipulate other into fighting. Fighting back plays into that. So there's no easy answer.

As for God? I don't think he could care less about a little street altercation. We have free will and that's as far as that goes.

This gentleman sounds like a wonderful human being. I hope that by his writing of this letter the healing process will begin for him. This can be the only reason that this letter was written as the perpetrators of this despicable crime will certainly not read the letter, particularly as it has been published in a Jewish publication. I certainly wish him well and hope that I might be as eloquent and open if, G-d forbid, something as heinous were to happen to me.

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