A Follow-up Statement on Community Safety and Unwelcome Guests in our Space

A Follow-up Statement on Community Safety and Unwelcome Guests in our Space

It has been almost two weeks since the Rhizome House was attacked by Zionist extremists. They charged our doors, assaulted numerous people, and threatened to shoot two members of our community. These actions jeopardized the safety of everyone on Lee Rd and betrayed the community's trust. Since this happened, we (the collective that takes care of the space) have been doing a lot of processing, talking to members of our local Lee Rd community and our wider radical network. We have also reached out to the assailants to attempt to initiate a restorative process.

In our initial statement, we named Alexander Popikver: a local rabbi, handyman and well known Zionist extremist and virulent racist who is known for harassing Palestinian and Muslim students at CSU, culminating in his arrest. Our decision to name him was taken in the interest of immediately warning the community about the danger this individual posed, in light of his past behavior and refusal to change.

The second person responsible for attacking our space has been identified by multiple people as Michael Herschman, owner of the (recently closed) restaurant Mojo World Eats, located just a few doors down Lee from RZH.

In our initial statement, we opted not name him in order to pursue a community based resolution and to work towards ending cycles of aggression. After repeated attempts to directly establish dialogue and good faith efforts to move towards accountability and changed behavior, and after those efforts were received poorly and without any intent to move towards de-escalation, we are ready to do so now.

In our discussions with local residents we were asked to provide proof of our allegations, as if we would have any motivation to make this up. They can be found at the bottom of this page. As seen on footage from that night, a person in a Mojo apron, bearing a striking resemblance to Mr Herschman, can be seen barging through the doors and attacking numerous people. Please watch these videos with discretion.

Following the violence, attendees maintained calm and consciously decided to not engage after the assailants were outside of the property line, de-escalating a situation that Zionists continued to try to escalate. The police (who the Zionists called, not us) encouraged us to file reports so they could press charges against Mr Herschman and Mr Popivker.  Putting people in cages is not our vision of justice, accountability or repair for this or any situation--and has already proved ineffective at ending Mr. Popivker's violence. We chose not to, with intention, principle and care.

We also could have responded to this attack with righteous anger and vindication, we could have immediately put the assailants' information out on the internet, to predictable results and likely further escalation of violence and threats. We chose not to, with intention, principle and care.

Instead of reacting punitively, we chose to slow down, talked with each other, and decided to approach this from a perspective of restoration and deescalation. Though self-defense against threats is absolutely justified, and would have been in this case, we decided to ground our response in Transformative Justice practices and a different vision of what community defense can be. When we use the slogan "We Keep Us Safe" we are not just talking about defending one another against police violence; it also means transforming conflict ourselves and doing so within a community, rather than outsourcing it to the government.

In our time talking to people in the community about what occurred, we heard numerous stories of Mr Herschman either dangerously losing his temper over minor indiscretions or openly talking about being armed in the restaurant. In January of 2023, Mr Popivker was arrested for stealing a Pro Palestine banner on CSU campus after months of aggressive escalation and racialized harassment of Palestinian and Muslim students. This pattern of behavior from both men, coupled with a clear lack of interest in reconciliation, leads us to believe that Mr Herschman and Mr Popivker may pose a threat, and could continue to do so in the future, to those that they either identify as Palestinian or people they disagree with politically.

We still do not believe that individuals are defined by their worst moments, but rather by patterns of action and by their moral character. By naming Mr Herschman and Mr Popivker, we are not attempting to retaliate (that would not serve anyone in this situation) and we will not be calling for people to take any specific actions.

We are releasing this information as an alert: it is up to you to use this information to come to your own conclusions about your continued association with Mr Herschman and Mr Popivker in accordance with your safety and values.

There are some in the wider Cleveland Heights community that may claim that by naming them we are taking punitive action, that they will lose friendships, potential business opportunities, and standing in a community they have been a part of for a long time. That may be the case, and while we don't believe in retributive punishment, we do believe in consequences: these are the natural consequences of taking actions that threaten others in our community. At the same time, we're not telling anyone to cancel anyone else, and if you have relationship with Mr Herschman, Mr Popivker or their families, you may want to consider having these hard conversations so that everyone in our community can move towards healing.

Even though neither have decided to communicate with us yet, we are not closing that door entirely. Mr Herschman, you are always welcome to respond to the email we sent you. Mr Popivker, clearly you know where to find us. We also understand that you may want to talk more with our collective about how to move forward and we have members who are open to this, including members who are residents of the Cedar-Lee neighborhood.

Though we are disappointed at the lack of response and feel the need to warn the community about a risk to their safety, we are proud of how our community handled this entire situation. We appreciate everyone for respecting our process during this time, including not naming Mr Herschmann in connection with our original post, and working with us to try to model a way to resolve conflicts without involving police and without resorting to punishment-based approaches. It is up to us to create a world without cops, and working through difficult restorative processes, or at least attempting to, is an integral part of that.

We appreciate everyone in our community who has had our back during the last couple of weeks. Together we can create a better world!

Kicking into our space