(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/07/image-5.gif)On a late June Friday evening, Marc Heinberg, a 61-year old man, was walking home from synagogue along Gravesend Neck Road; Neck Road to the locals. Neck Road is classic Brooklyn; a scattering of modest brick houses along a tree-lined street, but a short walk down “The Neck” takes you to Nostrand Avenue and from there to the Sheepshead-Nostrand housing projects where crime is common and life is cheap.
Sheepshead-Nostrand, where drug deals go down, shots are fired and gruesome murders are a local tradition, and the tree-lined portion of “The Neck” where Marc Heinberg was walking home, are two worlds apart. They are also less than a dozen blocks apart.
As Marc Heinberg walked home from his prayers, the hymns welcoming the Sabbath, the Day of Rest, still humming in his ears, he heard someone yell out, “dirty Jew.” On the old farm road, half-a-dozen African-American teenagers surrounded him, screaming racial slurs and pummeling him with their fists. The two worlds had collided, as they so often did, leaving pain and violence in their wake.
This ugly attack was one of a series of anti-Semitic incidents in Brooklyn; not the first of its kind, nor the last. There are many Jewish New Yorkers of Heinberg’s age who still remember lives and childhoods in Brownsville and the Bronx cut short by similar violence. Farther out the abandoned synagogues of Detroit and Newark tell the same story of a painful exodus from a new life in a new country, as families fled the spiraling racist violence of the community organizers and agitators of the sixties and seventies.
Even though New York State’s African-Americans make up 17.5 percent of the population, outnumbering the state’s Jewish population by 2 to 1, hate crime statistics for 2010 show that while 31.5 percent of hate crimes were aimed at Jews, only 19.7 percent were aimed at African-Americans. There are few statistics kept on the races of perpetrators, but there is an ugly history recorded in ashes, concussions and speeches going back a long way.
In Brooklyn, a Jewish schoolteacher and father of four lost consciousness after being brutally beaten by two minority teenagers who shouted “Jew, Jew.” Upstate in Monsey, four black teenagers sought out a Jewish victim and hit him with a knife. Incidents like this have become part of the fabric of life. An unspoken reality that everyone knows, but few talk about. Sometimes, as with the Crown Heights Pogrom, the violence explodes. Mostly it jabs like switchblades and broken glass.
Brooklyn is the city borough with the largest growing Jewish population, and by the logic of hate, it is also the growth area for anti-Semitic attacks. The Jewish communities of Brooklyn are composed of refugees, not only from Europe, but from lost communities in other parts of Brooklyn and other boroughs. Some grandmothers and grandfathers have stories about childhood homes in Poland and Germany that they can never return to, while others have similar stories about tree-lined lanes full of modest brick houses, just like “The Neck,” in Brownsville, the Bronx or Newark, home to a community of 70,000 Jews before the race riots; now home to nearly none.
After decades of a declining Jewish population in New York City, the Jewish communities of Brooklyn have tilted against the demographics of decline. The growing anti-Semitic violence is a sign that the thugs of decline are pushing back against the families making their private stand for the future on quiet streets in neighborhoods like Sheepshead Bay.
Their war is a quiet and private thing. It is won when a family moves into a new home, when a grocery store stays in business and a school opens for another year. It is won by children playing in backyards and by old men walking home from synagogue. There are casualties in the war. Assaults, fires, vandalism and swastikas scrawled on windows—sometimes by teenagers whom the bearers of the Swastika flag would have considered subhuman. But in Brooklyn, the swastika does not stand for the Thousand Year Reich. It stands for hating Jews.
A swastika in 21st century Brooklyn means the same thing that it did in 20th century Berlin. “Get out.” Or as a leaflet from 1968 Brownsville put it, “Get Out, Stay Out… Or Your Relatives in the Middle East Will Find Themselves Giving Benefits To Raise Money To Help You Get Out From Under the Terrible Weight of an Enraged Black Community.”
The story of this quiet war is rarely told because it is a story that the gatekeepers of the media do not want to allow through their iron curtain of journalism. In the media narrative the race riots were cries for justice. But to the Jewish families who fled the mobs, they were cries of hate.
In the long hot summer of 1991, a New York Times reporter angrily called his editor, after witnessing black demonstrators chanting, “Death to the Jews.” “Jews are being attacked!” Ari Goldman told his boss, challenging the official media narrative. “You’ve got this story all wrong. All wrong.”
But the wrongness of the story has persisted over the years. The New York Post, one of the few papers to accurately cover the Crown Heights Pogrom, is also one of the few papers to have noted the recent crime wave targeting Jewish New Yorkers. And the wrongness goes back a long way.
In 1935, the Harlem riots destroyed hundreds of stores and began the process of pushing Jews out of the neighborhood. Crucial to that atmosphere of hate was Sufi Abdul Hamid, a Muslim convert, who was dubbed, “The Black Hitler.” From his stepladder on 125th Street, Hamid vowed to pursue, “An open bloody war against the Jews who are much worse than all other whites.”
60 years later, Al Sharpton’s thugs crowded 125th Street, continuing Hamid’s war by going after one of the few remaining Jewish stores. One of the protesters pulled out a gun, ordered the black customers to leave and set fire to the store.
Today the Black Hitler is remembered as an early civil rights leader and Al Sharpton poses for photos with Obama. The dead of Harlem and Crown Heights have been buried, but the hatred that killed them lives on and thrives. Until that hatred is addressed and exposed for what it is, its shadows will haunt the tree-lined streets of cities where multiculturalism has come to mean a bloody fist.
Attorney General Eric Holder accused America of being a “nation of cowards” on race. The attackers who shouted “Jew, Jew” while beating a schoolteacher unconscious, similarly claimed to have chosen their victims because Jews don’t fight back.
The Attorney General has said that we must “have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.” But if we are to have that frank conversation, it cannot be limited to Selma or Tuskegee. It must also take in “The Neck” and the “Black Hitler.” It must take in not only a few bombed black churches, but also the hundreds of abandoned synagogues whose worshipers were terrorized and driven out of their homes and neighborhoods. It must take in Holder’s own appearance at Sharpton’s convention, held under the thug’s motto of “No Justice, No Peace”; the same motto under which a Jewish community was terrorized and beaten in the streets with the complicity of black elected officials.
To do otherwise, to revisit the ghosts of Mississippi, without also revisiting the ghosts of Harlem, the Bronx and Newark, the ghosts of Brownsville and Crown Heights, would be a true act of cowardice.
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