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Despite renewed threats, Jewish New Yorkers display their faith proudly

Jewish New Yorkers are demonstrating their trademark resiliency – wearing their faith proudly despite rising tensions in the city as Israel wages war on Hamas following the terror group’s cowardly surprise attack this month.

In recent days, the NYPD has stepped up patrols at Jewish schools and synagogues out of an “abundance of caution” ahead of Friday’s “day of jihad” mass demonstration, which saw Israeli flags burned as thousands of pro-Palestine protesters took to the streets.

But in spite of all of this, Jewish New Yorkers aren’t hiding.

“I’m not afraid of anything,” 31-year-old Manhattan resident Joseph Borgen told The Post, clad in a yarmulke and draped in a massive blue and white Israeli flag, which he wore at a pair of back-to-back rallies supporting the Jewish State and its people in the city this week.

“If they want to get me, they can get me,” said Borgen – who was beaten by a mob in an anti-semitic attack while on his way to a pro-Israel rally near Times Square in 2021.

Even as shocking anti-Israel rallies flooded the streets last week, Borgen, like many fellow Jewish New Yorkers refused to live in fear – proudly displaying their Star of David necklaces, yarmulkes and Israel Defense Forces sweatshirts as they proclaimed their support for the country.

“No one should put themselves in harm’s way if they feel like they are at risk, but in these times of tremendous pain and suffering in Israel, any way we can show we stand with Israel and support them, it’s what we need to do,” Borgen said.

NYU student Ayden Morenstern, 20, wears a shirt in support of Israel.
Robert Miller

“If that means being a little afraid, going out there and not letting them scare you into hiding and changing your life, I hope that’s what we can do.”

Chabad Rabbi Uriel Vigler said showing Jewish pride and encouraging others to stay strong is the best way to combat the hostile and intimidating climate.

The rabbi runs Belev Echad, an organization that supports injured Israeli soldiers including Raz Mizrachi, who was one of the 260 innocent revelers massacred by Hamas militants at the Tribe of Nova Music Festival on Oct 7.

When faced with unimaginable horrors like those witnessed at the festival, “our response has to be to be more proud of being Jewish,” he said.

“Our response to darkness is to ignite a light. A little bit of light dispels darkness. When they bring hate we bring light.”

That’s exactly what Blake Zavadsky – a college student who was randomly attacked while wearing an IDF hoodie in in Bay Ridge two years ago – is doing.

Blake Zavadsky was randomly attacked last year for his sweatshirt featuring the Jewish star.
Blake Zavadsky

“The world needs to know that Jews are strong – we don’t give up and we won’t be intimidated,” said the 23-year-old from south Brooklyn, who donned the very same sweatshirt this week.

“People say they’re afraid to wear their Star of David necklace, but I tell them to be proud of who they are,” said Zavadsky, who wrapped himself in his “End Jew Hatred” sweatshirt in stretches of Brooklyn where he saw “Jews being pushed around” this past week.

“Jews in New York are scared – no one wants to get assaulted, or worse. I was assaulted,” said Zavadsky, the son of former Soviet Union refugees seeking religious freedom in the US, admitting he was “scarred” after being attacked.

Zavadsky says he was “scarred” from the experience, but he will continue to wear his Jewish pride.
Blake Zavadsky

“But would I go back and take off my sweatshirt? No – that lets anti-Semites win,” he said. “I’m Jewish and proud.”

Dikla Goren, a 42-year-old mom of four in Brooklyn, wrapped herself in a large Israeli flag at a rally in Midtown this week – her first time doing so since she visited the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland as a teenager.

“I was very proud to wear the flag. You want to tell the world, ‘Never again,’” said Goren, who shared the photo of herself draped in the flag with her 144,000 followers.

Goren is posting images of kidnapped Israelis around Brooklyn in hopes to raise awareness.
Dikla Goren

“I was very proud when I went to to Auschwitz when I was 17, but I never in my life imagined I would need to show the world I’m Jewish and I’m proud. This can’t be happening in 2023,” she told The Post.

Goren, who moved from Israel 13 year ago, also blanketed Brooklyn with the missing persons posters of Israelis – many of whom are children – hoping to educate people, even as she braced for backlash.

“Many people ‘get it,’” she said, but added, “I get so many haters too.”

Anti-Israel protests broke out this week at several Big Apple colleges. On Thursday, demonstrators clashed with pro-Palestine supporters on the campuses of CUNY Brooklyn College, Hunter College and Columbia University.

Nathan Orbach (left), 21, a junior from Livingston, NJ and Ayden Morenstern, 20, a sophomore from Scarsdale, NY, show their support for Israel.
Robert Miller

But some Jewish students, like 21-year-old New York University junior Nathan Orbach, refused to bow down to intimidation, continuing to wear their love for Israel on their sleeves.

“If they’re wearing their uniforms and fighting, we should wear our uniforms in New York City,” said Orbach, who donned a yarmulke, Israeli flag-emblazoned sweatshirt and ceremonial fringes called tzitzit at a pro-Israel rally in Washington Square Park – where chants of “A good Jew is a dead Jew” rang out.

Prior to last week, Orbach said he tucked his tzitzit into his pockets, out of sight.

Aaron Baron, 21, a senior from Great Neck, LI wears items that show his support for Israel.
Robert Miller

“That’s why I’m wearing my tzitzit out today – because I’m proud. While we’re not able to fight on the front lines, we’re putting up our own fight here and we’re showing solidarity to our brothers,” said Orbach, who admitted he has to summon his courage to wear the “uniform.”

“There’s definitely a sense of fear,” he conceded, noting a classmate’s lament of “paying $80,000-a-year to go to NYU to be scared to go to class.”

Beauty queen Justine Brooke Murray said she went against the wishes of her “stereotypical concerned Jewish mother” when she donned her “giant” star of David necklace at the pro-Palestine rally in Times Square during Friday’s “day of jihad” demonstrations.

Justine Brooke Murray encourages her followers not to live in fear.
Instagram/Justine Brooke Murray

“I’m not going to live my life in fear and neither should you,” she urged her 13,000 Instagram followers before joining the fray of the hostile rally, calling herself “an FU Jew.”

“I’m not going to let anti-Semites and enemies of Western civilization force me to live in fear. That’s giving them a win,” said Murray, who was crowned Miss Central Jersey on the day of the surprise Hamas attack.

“Expressing your Judaism is an act of bravery these days,” she said.

As Borgen noted about the progress made in the wake of his brutal attack, “If nothing positive comes of what happened to me, then what’s the point?”

Additional reporting by Chris Nesi

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