By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO June 15, 2001 On Saturday, June 2, Louis Taub was viciously attacked by two teenagers in an apparent robbery attempt.
Taub was walking to the Landfield Avenue Synagogue via Broadway in Monticello around 5 a.m. to fulfill his voluntary duties as the shuls gaggai, or secton of the congregation.
The teens demanded money, and when the 82-year-old Holocaust survivor said he didnt have any telling them he didnt carry money on Saturdays because of religious beliefs they reportedly told him to take them to the synagogue so they could search it for money or valuables.
When Taub refused, one of the youths suddenly attacked him. As Taub fell to the ground, the youth, suspected by police to be 15-year-old Deshawn Buster Lewis of Mongaup Valley, began kicking the elderly man in the stomach and chest.
Taub ended up at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla with numerous internal injuries, two broken ribs, facial lacerations and several bruises.
As word of the brutal attack spread like wildfire, the stunned and enraged community called for a Lets Take Back Our Streets rally at the local synagogue.
Rabbi Ben-Zion Chanowitz, spiritual leader of the Landfield Avenue Synagogue, organized a demonstration against violence and rally of support for local law enforcement officials. On Tuesday afternoon, a diverse group of more than 300 people turned out at the synagogue for the grassroots gathering.
I Am a Survivor
Louis Taub was born on May 9, 1919. In WWII, he served as forced labor in a tank factory, survived the pogrom of 1946 and emigrated to the United States in 1951.
While growing up in his native Poland, Taubs father was beaten to death by a group of violent anti-Semites.
However, while Taub and law enforcement authorities dont believe the recent attack was ethnically motivated, the fiesty survivor said he flashed back on this painful memory as he was being beaten to the pavement.
I just knew I was going to die, he said.
The auditorium was standing-room-only as people listened to Taub recount the story of the savage beating, joined by local law enforcement officials and politicians in voicing outrage over the incident.
Thank God we still have a sense of community here in Monticello which transcends lines of religion and race, said Rabbi Chanowitz. What unites us is much more than what divides us. When one person in our community is attacked, we all feel the pain. We all feel compromised!
I believe that we cannot accept this violence here in Monticello, and even after one beating, we must cry out Enough is enough! he added.
According to Chanowitz, the attack and prompt reaction by authorities is an issue that solidified the community.
He offered praise and a challenge to the other speakers (heads of area law enforcement agencies, politicians and the president of the local board of education) waiting on stage to take their place at the podium.
We have faith in you. We stand behind you. Do what it takes, because we all care about Monticello.
In telling the story of the attack, Taub said, I am a survivor. Sixty years ago, I survived Hitler. I survived Stalin, and in 1946 the pogrom in Poland. In 2001, I survived my attack on the streets of Monticello.
And Taub, whos still recovering from his injuries, thanked local politicians with a two-edged sword.
I thank the politicians of Monticello for saying everything is fine and dandy, he said. But Im sorry, it is not fine and dandy. People are afraid to walk the streets day or night. . . . Broadway looks like a bus stop.
Its time to take back the streets of Monticello for the people, he added. I ask all the politicians and law enforcement to get together and make this town a safe place to live.
In closing, Taub led the assemblage in singing his favorite song, God Bless America. The moving rendition drew a standing ovation.
As large speakers placed by the synagogues front doors carried the sounds of outrage and hope out onto Landfield Avenue, passersby joined the rally or stood quietly in the background discussing the affront to their community.
Jack Leshner is head of the Monticello Central School District board of education. He talked about what schools in the district are doing to prevent this kind of senseless, brutal, vicious attack that was perpetrated on Mr. Taub.
Village of Monticello Mayor Gary Sommers reminded the audience that the attack was an isolated act of violence and expressed the fear that, if left unanswered, it could divide the community rather than bring it together.
Michael Brennan has served as chief of the village police department for almost nine years.
Were moving in the right direction to make our streets safer, he said. I believe the streets are safer than they used to be. . . . The young man who is responsible for this incident is an opportunist. It is a matter of the strong trying to take advantage of the weak.
Sullivan County District Attorney Steve Lungen said the rally was an important start in making the community a safer and better place for all of us, regardless of color, race or religion. He noted the large audience crossed religious and racial lines.
The [police] chief talked about the strong picking on the weak, said Lungen. I suspect the strong is sitting here and the weak is in hiding. I dont know if Ive ever seen anybody tougher than Mr. Taub.
And he challenged parents to be aware of where their kids are at 5 a.m.
I want some parents to take responsibility for their children, said Lungen. When we talk about safe streets and taking back our communities, we need to look in the mirror.
Town of Thompson supervisor Tony Cellini cited the words of Abe Lincoln.
A house divided against itself cannot stand, he said.
While crediting the local cops with doing a good job in protecting the community at large, he echoed Lungens feelings about parental responsibility.
Its up to us as parents to lead children in the right direction, but unfortunately not all of us do that.
Robert Kunis serves as the county legislator of District 8, which includes northern Thompson.
When I read of the attack, I was sickened and appalled. It stuck in my throat, he said. This is not a racial divide. . . . We will survive as a community as Mr. Taub has survived as a human being.
Before being elected as sheriff of the county and serving as undersheriff, Dan Hogue walked the streets of Monticello as a police office for 26 years.
Mr. Taub, thank God youre here this afternoon and God bless you, he said as he turned to Taub, who was sitting quietly on the stage.
The police is the thin blue line between the public and the bad guys. . . . We need your help in cracking cases like this by providing us information on crimes in this 1,100-square-mile county.
We cant do it all, added Hogue. We need your help to maintain the law so we can all live in peace together.
Rev. James Matthew serves as the spiritual leader at the First Baptist Church of Monticello.
We are not safe on our streets, he said. Things are happening all over the land, and there is trouble. Were living in a new day and a new time where we have to be careful. . . . When something like this happens, it happens to all of us.
After the rally, Louis Taub received numerous cards from well-wishers and showed off a few of the scars he got at the hands of his attacker.
Im a survivor, he reiterated proudly.
How You Can Help
The incident is under investigation by several law enforcement agencies. According to DA Lungen, when the suspect is located, the juvenile will be charged as an adult with assault in the first degree.
Juveniles charged as adults with first-degree assault face a maximum of ten years in state prison.
A reward for the arrest and conviction of Deshawn Buster Lewis has also been offered.
We are hopeful to have the suspect in custody very soon, said Lungen. We are following up several leads.
Anyone with information about the crime against Taub should call the Monticello PD at 794-4422 or anonymously at 791-TIPS.