NYC Jewish family pummeled at 5th-grade commencement by attendees shouting ‘Free Palestine,’ mom says

A Jewish mom and her husband were attacked and beaten at a Brooklyn elementary school graduation by an Arabic-speaking family — who taunted them with shouts of “Free Palestine!” “Gaza is Ours!” and “Death to Israel!” she told The Post.

The mayhem erupted at PS 682 in Gravesend just after the school’s fifth-grade graduation — which was themed, ironically, “All you need is love.”

Instead, the Jewish woman’s husband was thrown to the ground by members of the other family. One man put him in a chokehold, he said. Others grabbed his legs as they kicked and punched him. One woman repeatedly whacked him with the sharp heel of a black stiletto, the mom told police.

Johan said he was punched in the head “out of nowhere” and put in a chokehold. Obtained by The New York Post

“They targeted my family because we are Jewish,” said the mother, whose 10-year-old twins witnessed the assaults.

“A graduation event that was supposed to be joyous and memorable turned into a violent and traumatizing one.”

It was one of the worst outbursts of antisemitism in NYC public schools since the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attack in Israel and war in Gaza, because it escalated beyond words, said Tova Plaut, a city educator and advocate for Jewish peers.

“We consistently warned that tolerating overtly antisemitic views would create a toxic environment for Jewish students and families, inevitably leading to physical violence,” Plaut said. “This has now occurred.”

The Jewish mom, Lana, and her husband Johan, a Dominican who is Catholic, recounted their horrific experience to The Post in frustration because the NYPD did not classify the incident as a hate crime.

But after the couple urged the NYPD to reconsider, a spokesperson said Saturday, “The Hate Crime Task Force is investigating the incident.”

The Post is withholding the couple’s last names to protect their children’s privacy and safety.

The graduation ceremony itself was uneventful, but Lana’s mother was upset when one student marched across the stage wearing his graduate cap marked  “Free Palestine” and waving a small Palestinian flag. The grandma walked out.

The mom recorded a brief video on her cell phone before she was knocked to the ground. Obtained by The New York Post

A school administrator told another parent that the city Department of Education’s legal staff had okayed the display as an expression of free speech.

After the event concluded, Lana and Johan started to take pictures with their two kids in front of a PS 682 banner and balloons when relatives of the boy with the flag tried to push them out of the way, she said.

“We told them there was space for both families,” Lana said. “An older man turned to us and said ‘Free Palestine!’ for no reason. My husband told him this was not the time or place for that but the man cursed at him in Arabic, and shouted, “Free Palestine, Gaza is Ours, Death to Israel.”

Johan and his wife were left with bruises, scrapes and swelling after the incident. Courtesy of Lana Lerner

While Johan argued with the older man and told him to back off, another man “just came out of nowhere, punched me in the head and it was a scuffle,” he said. “From there, I don’t remember, because there was so much going on and so many people on top of me. Then I was put on a chokehold. Somebody was holding my leg. It was chaotic.”

Their 16-year- old son tried to help his dad, but he was punched in the face.

Lana walked toward her son and managed to record a glimpse of the scene with her cell phone — capturing a group holding her husband down, jostling and loud shrieks — before she, too, was assaulted. 

“A woman from the group came up from behind me, pulled me by the hair, and knocked me down on the ground, shouting, ‘I will kill you,’” she said.

Lana screamed, “Call the cops! Call the cops!”

No security was on site. Two male teachers rushed over to break up the attack. 

Johan was taken to Maimonides Medical Center with scrapes, bruises and swelling on his head, face and body, photos show. Lana suffered a gash on her leg. Their teen son had a bloody nose. 

Lana said her hair was pulled by another woman and she was thrown to the ground. Courtesy of Lana Lerner
“There was so much going on and so many people on top of me,” her husband told The Post. Courtesy of Lana Lerner

Cops made one arrest:  Ez-Al Dean Bazar, 26, who punched and dragged Johan, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. The complaint makes no mention of his motive.

Bazar was released on his own recognizance. He and his lawyer did not return messages seeking comment.

In recent self portraits, Lana’s children proudly displayed Jewish stars and flags. Obtained by The New York Post
The 10-year-old twins witnessed the attack on their parents at the 5th-grade graduation. Obtained by The New York Post

The NYPD did not call the assault a hate crime, telling Lana “nothing on my body says I am Jewish,” she said. 

But she and her kids are well-known in the school as Jewish. The twins proudly displayed their Jewish – and Dominican – roots on self-portraits displayed at a recent art show. Lana did not know the other family, but her son was in a class with their son last year.

DOE spokesman Nathaniel Styer refused to say how school officials classified the fracas.

“Graduations should be times of celebration and joy, and we strongly denounce anyone who acts in a violent or aggressive way during such events,” he said.

But he shifted blame to Lana and Johan as well: “Initial reports we have received from multiple witnesses indicate that both families engaged in aggressive behavior, but we are still investigating the matter and are simultaneously engaging with families as we work towards a resolution.”

Lana disputed the statement, insisting no one in her family provoked the attack, and that school staff told the arresting officer that members of the other family were the aggressors.

“My husband was trying to de-escalate the situation,” she said. “The DOE is trying to sweep it under the rug to avoid further scrutiny of this heinous antisemitic act.” 

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