Attack on elderly Jewish couple near Beverly Hills synagogue investigated as hate crime

A Jewish couple have spoken out after being targeted in an antisemitic attack and attempted robbery on their way to their local synagogue in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, on Saturday, in which they said a man screamed: “Give me your earrings, Jew.”

Raphy, 75, and Rebecca, 70, told NBC LA in a video interview on Sunday that the attack had left them shocked and shaken but more determined to practice their faith in the face of rising antisemitism across the U.S. The couple asked for their second names not to be reported for fear of reprisals.

“At first, it was a shock. There was a huge hard knock on my forehead here,” Raphy said pointing to his head.

“And all of a sudden I saw the guy hitting my husband with a belt and screaming, ‘Give me your earrings, Jew,'” Rebecca recalled.

The couple then began chasing their attacker before a local police officer saw the unfolding drama, they said. “We decided that we couldn’t let it go,” Rebecca said.

Police arrested Jarris Jay Silagi, 44, and booked him on allegations of assault with a deadly weapon, attempted robbery and elder abuse, with the added allegation that he was motivated by hate, Beverly Hills police said in a statement.

Under California law, a hate crime “enhancement” can be used to add time during sentencing if a defendant is convicted. It was not clear whether Silagi has legal counsel. The local public defender’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday afternoon.

“I was really enraged, not because of the thing [injury] but because I was hit as a Jew,” Raphy said.

Rebecca added that the couple’s grandson, 13, asked whether he should take off his kippah, the skullcap worn by Jewish boys and men, as a result of the attack. “That for me, that was a shock, if a 13-year-old boy already understands that there might be danger in wearing part of what we were supposed to wear proudly.” she said.

Despite the attack leaving Raphy blood-stained and shaken, he still managed to turn up to his local synagogue just in time for a planned Torah reading. “There were 80 other people waiting for that — and it would have been a much bigger blow [for them] than a little bit of blood.”

He is a regular presence at the synagogue and had been expected to participate as a “lay reader” of scripture Saturday morning. “He went home, changed shirt and came to synagogue” after the attack, said Rabbi Pini Dunner, of Beverly Hills Synagogue.

Dunner, who has been in touch with the couple since the incident Saturday morning, said he believes they were clearly recognizable as Jewish, as they wore black-and-white clothing, with the husband donning a yarmulke.

Dunner said the attacker took off his belt and used it to strike Raphy as the couple walked to the synagogue just a few blocks away in the city’s business district.

The bloodied husband pursued the attacker as the latter’s pants fell down, with police ultimately apprehending him, Dunner said. He said the attack took place at 9 a.m. near Beverly Hills City Hall and police headquarters.

Police said the husband suffered lacerations and was treated by paramedics at the scene.

Rebecca was unharmed, Dunner and police said.

It was one of a number of antisemitic and anti-Arab attacks in the U.S. since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas militants on Oct. 7.

Authorities in New York City were searching Sunday for a man they said was uttering antisemitic remarks as he punched a 66-year-old shopper in a drugstore after the elderly man accidentally bumped into him Tuesday morning, police said in a statement.

The victim refused medical treatment, police said.

“Everyone is very much on edge, because antisemitism has become a big subject everyone is talking about,” Dunner said. “Jews are being targeted, and they feel the pressure.”

Beverly Hills Police Chief Mark Stainbrook said in his department’s statement Sunday, “This despicable act of hate against a member of our community will not be tolerated.”

Although reliable data is scant, the city is known for its a sizable Jewish population, bolstered by émigrés who fled religious persecution after Iran’s Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Silagi was previously convicted of second-degree robbery after it was alleged he tried to take someone’s phone in the outdoor dining area of a Beverly Hills restaurant in 2012, according to court documents. He was sentenced to five years in prison.

He was being held Sunday in lieu of $300,000 bail, according to inmate records. He was scheduled to appear in court Tuesday.