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November 14, 2008 1:46 am at 1:46 am #1237243
A follow-up to a discussion on the main site. This is a monumental article by the late A.M. Rosenthal, following the Crown Heights pogrom. Well worth reading and remembering.
July 23, 1993
On My Mind; What the Hasidim Know
By A. M. ROSENTHAL
Let’s all put Crown Heights behind us — certainly, but not now, not yet.
To walk away from Crown Heights now, with its real meaning and the real offense of New York City’s government still unstated and unexamined, would make it more likely that some other riot, some other pogrom, against some other group would be committed somewhere in America. There can be hope after Crown Heights — but, as always, only when reality is faced.
We are told Crown Heights is a matter of Mayor David Dinkins’s incompetence. Or — it is a matter of malarkey, that cockamamie story that he did not know how bad it was, nobody told him. Or — the police brass were paralyzed by their own inefficiency and timorousness.
All true, but they do not add up to the whole. What is left out is what the Hasidim know, why the feeling of betrayal is so deep in them. To understand the crime, understand the victim.
The Mayor allowed one group of citizens to be persecuted, openly and violently, by another group of citizens without providing the victims with the protection of the law. What Hasidim know is this: That passiveness strikes at the essential difference between America and the countries they or their parents fled in fear and disgust.
I doubt that any of the Hasidim are foolish enough to believe that in America they would find a land where religious or racial hatred had been eliminated.
But they knew that in the old countries, the government and the police were on the side of the pogromists. And they believed that in America it was the other way around — officials or police did not have to love you, but they would protect you against the rioters. For them, that was the difference — the law as shield, not knife.
In four days in 1991, they learned that was not true for them. In their own neighborhood, they were set upon, beaten, reviled, one of them murdered — while the police, knowing and seeing, failed to protect them.
That is what Hasidim know Crown Heights was about — the destruction of the law, the destruction of faith in the law.
The bitterness of black violence against Jews is that for both groups everything they fought and hope for rests on protection by the law, particularly against physical attack, in Selma or Brooklyn. Common self-interest in protective law brought Jews and blacks together in the civil rights struggle.
I do not understand why some Jews do not understand what is in the hearts of the Hasidim, or are silent. They would not tolerate, for a moment, police or mayoral failure against riots in their own neighborhoods. 911 would damn well work. There would be no sympathetic clucks for “root cause” rationalizations.
Are the Hasidim a little too Jewish for them? Maybe they think only a certain kind of Jew gets beaten up. Sweethearts, by you, you are Park Avenue, by your wife you are Park Avenue, but by an anti-Semite you are a Hasid.
All right, we all know that Jews can be among the most suicidal of God’s ostriches. But does everybody else have to be that thick too?
Why does Gov. Mario Cuomo say we should be grateful to the Mayor for all the riots that did not happen? Surely he jests; St. John’s turns out great lawyers, but lesser comedians.
Why does even the Mayor’s opponent, Rudolph Giuliani, not get to the gut of it — not one man’s competence but belief and trust in the law?
Why do not African-Americans, who have most to gain from the law’s protection against bigoted violence, not understand they have most to lose from the destruction of that shield?
I understand the cheapjack black politicians who heat up the streets one day and talk unctuously about brotherhood the next. But New York has African-American officials, business people, journalists, clergy and union people who despise them, easily enough to take leadership away from the slicksters. They do not. Why?
As for Mayor Dinkins, his future depends on his inner strength. Can he accept Crown Heights for what it was — not a mere chain of command foul-up, but his own failure to use the law to protect the oppressed or endangered? He did not stop the buck. He did break the faith.
When that is understood by Mayor, public and press, New Yorkers can safely put those four days behind them; not now.
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