Good Samaritan, Who Intervened In Attack On Jewish Boy, Confronts Life Without a Home

Waleska Mendez
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Waleska Mendez Arun Venugopal

It’s been a hectic few weeks for Waleska Mendez.

The Queens resident intervened in a violent attack on a 16-year-old Jewish boy by a group of teenagers, using a broom to scare off the assailants, on November 29th.

In response, City Comptroller Scott Stringer showed up at Masbia, the soup kitchen where she volunteers, last week and presented her with a commendation from the city, “For unparalleled bravery and selfless actions against hatred and antisemitism.”

“Very few people would go out and do what you did,” said Stringer. “Sometimes we take that granted, that there are heroes everywhere we go, but that's not always the case.”

In addition, Mendez revealed many New Yorkers came forward with offers of money, and clothes for her two children.

“And I turned the offer down,” she said. “Because I don’t think it’s right.”

The idea of materially benefiting from the incident made her feel uncomfortable.

“Someone needs to help, and I helped,” she said. “I was the person there. It could’ve been someone else.”

What makes this all the more poignant is the fact that Mendez doesn’t have a job. Her unemployment benefits recently ran out. And her landlord raised the rent on her Corona apartment from $1,300 to $2,000. So she and her sons will be moving out in the New Year, 14 years after she moved in. For the time being, she's putting her stuff in storage and will be staying with friends. Or maybe family.

“We keep the spirits up,” said Mendez, who won’t be celebrating Christmas this year. “I hope everything gets better for 2019. We're working on it.”

She continues to send her resume out. She has two associate’s degrees from La Guardia College. Ideally, Mendez said, she’ll get to work at a school, and figures her bilingual skills will help her.

Listen to Arun Venugopal's report on Waleska Mendez and the Forest Hills assault for WNYC:

The attack outside the soup kitchen resulted in the arrests of Jonathan Torres, 18, and a 17-year-old male. Both were charged with first-degree felony gang assault and second-degree felony assault. A spokesperson for the Queens District Attorney said the investigation is ongoing and that the defendants are next in court on January 16th. A call to Torres's attorney was not immediately returned.

Mendez said many more people actually participated in the attack, and expressed surprise that she was never interviewed by the police about the attack, despite being a witness. More than anything, she was shocked by the reaction of the young bystanders, who showed “no sense of empathy” for the victim, recording videos of the incident instead of helping him or calling the police.

The attack rattled the Bukharian Jewish community, and prompted calls for hate crimes charges.

Mendez said it suggests there’s considerable work to be done in the educational system, but argued that families and society bear responsibility as well.

“We cannot let the City of New York and the Department of Education do all the job.”

Arun Venugopal is a reporter who focuses on issues of race and immigration at WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter at @arunNYC.

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