Raphy Nissel said he doesn’t care about punishing the man charged with striking him in the back of the head with a belt buckle and trying to rob him and his wife, Rivka, while they were walking to Young Israel of North Beverly Hills to celebrate Shabbat over the weekend.
The 75-year-old was wearing a yarmulke when he was hit on the morning of Dec. 9. Nissel was bloodied, and also became enraged upon hearing the man who attacked him tell his wife to “give me your earrings, Jew.”
Authorities typically recommend avoiding confrontation during a robbery. However, the couple, outraged by apparently being singled out for their religion, chased the robber. They managed to steer him in the direction of a nearby Beverly Hills Police station, where he was promptly taken into custody.
Afterward, the Nissels got cleaned up and then carried on with their plans to attend services at Young Israel.
“Not only did it not stop me, but it also motivated me,” Raphy Nissel told the Courier on Dec. 12, after speaking at a ceremony celebrating the sixth night of Hanukkah in front of Beverly City Hall, not far from where the attack happened. “I decided to continue living as if nothing happened. Otherwise, it would be a victory for evil.”
He was joined by all five members of the Beverly Hills City Council, Rabbis Kalman Topp, Yosef Cunin and Marvin Hier, as well as news media and a handful of community members. They watched Nissel light the menorah, openly displaying his faith and that of the local Jewish community.
“After this terrible act of hate, you rose up and went back to shul and showed exactly who we are,” Council Member Lili Bosse said during the ceremony. “Anybody who tries to think we are going to cower, that we are not going to be prideful that we are Jewish, watch we will grow even stronger and we will be even more united.”
She and other members of the council pledged zero tolerance for crimes targeting Jewish people. They also joined Nissel in calling for vigilance against antisemitism, especially as ongoing conflict in Gaza raises tension amongst communities around the world.
The attack on the Nissels quickly gained national attention after relatives described it in a post on social media, which was shared by Gov. Gavin Newsom. For some, it was a reminder that they must be on the lookout for antisemitism, even in a place with as influential of a Jewish community as Beverly Hills.
The man accused of attacking the Nissels was later identified as 44-year-old Jarris Jay Silagi. Investigators do not believe there was any prior connection between them.
Silagi was held in Los Angeles County Sheriff’s custody at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in lieu of $1.31 million bail. He has since been charged with second-degree robbery, elder abuse and multiple assault-related allegations. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted as charged.
“I’m sure the judicial system does what it has to do,” Nissel said. “But, whether they give him one year or 10 years, it’s not going to make the world, and certainly not me, any better.”
Although prosecutors did not immediately charge Silagi with a religion-motivated hate crime, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón did acknowledge the antisemitic circumstances of the case.
“I unequivocally condemn the violent attack inflicted upon those peacefully observing their faith,” Gascón said in a statement. “Such acts of antisemitism have no place in our community, and we continue to be committed to ensuring justice prevails and holding the defendant accountable.”
Meanwhile, Nissel said he’s ready to move forward from his ordeal, but not without acknowledging that the language used during the attack was rooted in persistent stereotypes of the Jewish people.
“People should know it happened,” he said. “It could happen in broad daylight. We should be vigilant when we’re on the street…but this is for the short term. In the long term, everyone should learn how to tolerate each other, learn how to disagree peacefully, to keep your position but don’t think you’re the only one who is right.”