Anti-Israel protest in Washington (archive image)
Anti-Israel protest in Washington (archive image)REUTERS

(New York Jewish Week) – When event producer Erez Safar announced a Valentine’s Day comedy show to raise funds for survivors of the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the flier included a date, time and photo of headliner Daniel Ryan Spaulding, the non-Jewish comic who has stood out since the attack for his pro-Israel activism.

But fans hoping to attend the show wouldn’t be able to get there by looking at the poster. All it said was “Location upon RSVP.”

Following a spike in antisemitic incidents in New York City and beyond following Oct. 7, Safar is one of several Jewish activists and promoters who have decided to shield the addresses or other details of their events. Much of the city’s robust Jewish life is still publicized, and pro-Israel groups have organized rallies on a regular basis — including one earlier this month, with police security, that drew 3,000 people.

But in the face of pro-Palestinian marches that have targeted institutions ranging from a cancer hospital to kosher restaurants, some Jewish organizers say they would rather prioritize the safety and well-being of their attendees — even if they risk potentially tamping down attendance.

“We were completely like, ‘No chance we can leak this location,’” said Safar, a Los Angeles resident who is also an author and musician, regarding an event he put on in Los Angeles in November. “Even buying tickets, we didn’t make it available, so you had to DM me, and then I was vetting people and then sending them a link.”

He had not taken such measures before Oct. 7, but has done so at all events since then, in New York City and elsewhere, and has noticed other organizers doing the same. And despite the precautions, the events can still draw protesters: A crowd still showed up outside his Valentine’s Day event, shouting “Nazi scum” and “Zionist freak” at people entering the venue and handing out fliers reading, “No matter where they are, they shall not know peace.”

For Safar, that was only an indication that he needed to double down on security. “I’ll have to vet people” for future events, he said, adding that in retrospect, “there were a couple red flags” among ticket buyers — in other words, indications of protesters who bought tickets to discover the event’s location.

The secrecy trend has even extended to a Jewish movement perhaps best known for its assertively public displays of religion: Chabad. On a Saturday night in late February, the Brooklyn-based hasidic movement, whose “mitzvah tanks” and tefillin-laying stations dot major intersections, gathered some 3,000 teens from its youth group at one of the city’s most famous landmarks, at Times Square.

The location and crowd made the event as public as they come. But in contrast to past years, organizers refrained from sending email blasts ahead of time advertising the gathering. Some parents had expressed concern about security, said Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, the executive director of Merkos 302, a Chabad office dealing with education and outreach that runs the CTeen youth group.

Organizers also took other measures, including hiring extra private security guards.

“Everybody who knows, knows, but it’s not like anybody who was looking for this would be able to find it,” Kotlarsky said.

Security concerns are “not something new but I can tell you that it’s a lot more real post Oct. 7,” he added. “It brought people from under the surface out above the surface, so whatever we were doing in the past, we are now doing on a whole new level.”

Jewish groups are not the only ones taking precautions surrounding their events. Earlier this month, the Chelsea Film Festival held the New York City premiere of the documentary film “Supernova,” about the Hamas massacre at the outdoor dance party on Oct. 7. The film uses footage taken by attendees and interviews with survivors to depict the slaughter.

The screening was advertised via email but invitations left out the event’s location, only stating that it was in Manhattan and saying the exact address would be provided to attendees 24 hours ahead of time. The measure was taken to head off protests, said Ingrid Jean-Baptiste, the film festival’s director. (After the New York screening, a Jewish man was attacked outside a showing of the film in Chicago.)

“We wish we could have shared the location ahead of time,” Jean-Baptiste said, adding that the measure led to complications on the day of the event. “It’s more logistics when we cannot share a location.”

The security measures have not dampened attendance, though — Safar’s comedy show and the documentary screening both sold out, and the Times Square event was filled to capacity.

RSVP-shielding is still a relatively rare phenomenon: Most Jewish organizations in the New York City area are not concealing the time or location of their events, said Mitch Silber, the director of the Community Security Initiative, which coordinates security for Jewish institutions in the area.

“We still keep on getting requests to make sure that there’s a police presence to protect Jewish events but I have no sense that people are going underground,” Silber said.

Ronit Levin Delgado, an Israeli artist in New York City, has held performances focused on the Gaza hostages and has helped organize art events in the city since Oct. 7. She said some of the event organizers had discussed keeping details quiet, but ultimately opted against it.

“I’m proud of my identity,” Levin Delgado said. “Now is the time to show that we’re strong and resilient.”

She acknowledged that there were risks, but also said that for her performance art, blowback was part of the experience. In a public display focused on the hostages in downtown Manhattan, for example, she said she was pushed and heckled.

“Art imitates life, life imitates art. They’re inspired from each other and that’s what makes it strong, that you are able to get those emotions from people,” she said.

Safar said that for his events, he informs customers of the neighborhood where the shows will take place and that it is not a burden for those attending and has not depressed turnout. Keeping the location quiet also has benefits, he said. If organizers need to change a venue before a show, it’s easier to do so because they don’t need to inform attendees about the change.

The secrecy also adds an element of surprise, Safar said, likening the events to underground raves in the 1990s.

“It does make it a little fun, like you don’t know where you’re going,” he said, even if it is “depressing and ridiculously sad that we have to do this.”

He also said has been inundated with messages of support since the Valentine’s Day event, and since he posted a defiant video about the protest on Instagram.

“Their entire point was to stop it, ruin it, whatever, but it kind of did the opposite, so it just brought us all together,” he said. “I think if anything it almost helped that night get to that level of flipping that really dark energy into this insane amount of light.”