- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

NEW YORK — In a Brooklyn park, Jewish children in yarmulkes and black children in braids watch a puppet show and squeeze onto rides, screaming with delight as their parents picnic nearby.
Police Sgt. Dave Wadler, who helps organize the annual gathering, looks around and smiles. "Ten years ago, they wouldn't have been in the same space," he says.
This, after all, is Crown Heights.
Ten years ago, riots turned this Brooklyn neighborhood into a national symbol of ethnic strife. The trouble began on Aug. 19, 1991, when a black 7-year-old, Gavin Cato, was struck and killed by a Jewish driver from the ultra-Orthodox Lubavitch community, whose headquarters are in Crown Heights.
Three hours later, a gang of blacks shouting "Get the Jew" fatally stabbed a rabbinical student, Yankel Rosenbaum.
Violence surrounding the deaths — 188 injured, angry crowds breaking windows, shouting "Heil, Hitler" and burning the Israeli flag — reverberated from City Hall around the world and altered the course of local politics.
Blacks still blame the attacks on pent-up anger over perceptions that Lubavitchers received preferential treatment from city officials. Jews say it was anti-Semitism, pure and simple.
Despite these unshakeable views, something extraordinary has happened in the past 10 years: Blacks and Jews are healing Crown Heights.
Their children have played sports together. Women from both sides have formed a mothers group. Jews march in the West Indian Day Parade; blacks attend Passover seders.
Rabbis lobbied for funding for Medgar Evers College, a predominantly black school. The college gave members of the Lubavitch community access to its computers and swimming pool.
"There's been a tremendous change," says Rabbi Shea Hecht, who took a lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., with Medgar Evers' black president, Edison Jackson.
"A bond has developed," Mr. Jackson says, "that was not in place before."

Mothers together
Jean Griffith Sandiford isn't sure why she went to the site of Gavin's death on the first anniversary of the riots, but she remembers telling someone, "I think I can help."
Mrs. Sandiford, an immigrant from Trinidad, met a Lubavitch woman that day who had lived through the riots, Henna White. Together, they created a group for black and Jewish women called Mothers to Mothers.
At first, their meetings were contentious.
"One Jewish lady came and said she had been robbed," Mrs. Sandiford says. "I told her, 'All black persons are not the same thing.' And all whites are not the same."
Mrs. Sandiford's own son, Michael Griffith, was murdered by a gang of whites in 1986 in another New York neighborhood, Howard Beach in Queens. "I would never tell my children all white people are bad because they killed Michael," she says.
Black women at the meetings complained that Lubavitch men would not make eye contact or shake their hands.
"Often, they're praying as they walk down the street. It's not that they won't look you in the face," Mrs. White says, explaining Lubavitch rules. "And it's not that they won't touch your hand. They won't touch any woman's hand."
These days, the women chat about careers and families. "We got past the riots a long time ago," says Lynn Posner, a Lubavitch woman. "Now, we're just friends."
Carmel Cato, a Guyanese immigrant with 11 children, can barely speak about his son, Gavin.
He sighs, shakes his head, chokes back tears, looks down.
"He was special," he finally manages. "It's so tough sometimes."
Gavin Cato and his cousin, Angela, were playing on the sidewalk when they were hit. The car was the last in a three-car motorcade carrying the Lubavitch grand rabbi, Menachem Schneerson, home from a visit to his wife's grave. An accident investigator later concluded the driver lost control after accelerating to stay with the motorcade.
Blacks began beating the driver, Yosef Lifsh, and his passengers. Police ordered a private Jewish ambulance at the scene to take away the Jews. This gave rise to a rumor that the Jewish ambulance refused to treat the children. The rioting began.
City paramedics took the children to the hospital. Angela survived; Gavin did not.
Three hours later, Yankel Rosenbaum, a 29-year-old rabbinical student visiting from Australia, was fatally stabbed five blocks from where Gavin was hit.

Hate and healing
Mr. Rosenbaum's only sibling, Norman, flew in from Melbourne two months later and visited the corner where his brother was attacked. A black woman passing by stopped to offer condolences.
"She told me I should never forget that these people, firstly and foremost and lastly, were criminals and murderers," Norman Rosenbaum says. "She told me she lived in fear herself. That day it was my brother, but the next day it could have been her and her children. She said, 'Please, don't hate black people.' I hate my brother's murderers, but I certainly do not hate black people."
A lawsuit contending that doctors who treated Yankel Rosenbaum at a hospital failed to notice one of his wounds is still pending.
Lemrick Nelson, 16, the son of immigrants from Trinidad, was charged with killing Yankel Rosenbaum, but a jury acquitted him. In federal court, he was convicted of violating Mr. Rosenbaum's civil rights. Nelson is serving 20 years in prison, along with another man, Charles Price, who was videotaped egging on the rioters.
Meanwhile, a grand jury declined to charge the driver, Mr. Lifsh, who moved to Israel.
"What angered people, particularly in the African-American community, was the sense that there was a double standard," says the Rev. Al Sharpton, an activist who eulogized Gavin.
On the other side, many Lubavitchers believe the city failed to protect them.
"It was the first pogrom in America," says Rabbi Beryl Epstein.
David Dinkins, who as mayor was showered with rocks and bottles when he visited Crown Heights during the riots, disputed both perceptions.
"Many people to this day think the driver of the car should have been prosecuted. But it was an accident," he says.
As for the Lubavitch contention, Mr. Dinkins says, "the police did not do the job they should have done. But a pogrom as I understand it is a state-sponsored activity. And this was not such."
In July 1993, a state investigation concluded that Mr. Dinkins "did not act in a timely and decisive manner in requiring the police department to protect the lives, safety and property of the residents of Crown Heights."

Two histories
Slavery. Immigration. Nazism. Communism. These forces swept blacks and Jews from Africa, the Caribbean and Eastern Europe to become neighbors in Crown Heights.
Emancipated slaves first settled the area in the 1830s. Caribbean immigrants began arriving in the early 1900s. A third of blacks in Crown Heights today are of West Indian heritage.
Lubavitchers fleeing persecution moved to Crown Heights in the 1940s, establishing their international headquarters. The refugees included Mr. Schneerson, who became their spiritual leader or "rebbe" in 1950.
Crown Heights was 70 percent white — mostly non-Lubavitch — until the 1960s, when it became 70 percent black. But Mr. Schneerson condemned white flight as immoral, and Lubavitchers stayed put. Today, the neighborhood is roughly 10 percent white, and most of those whites are Lubavitch.
Blacks and Jews lead separate lives here. Yes, they live side by side, poorer families in apartment buildings, the middle-class on leafy blocks in century-old homes. But Lubavitch families speak Yiddish and pray in Hebrew; they eat only kosher food and don't watch television. Women wear long skirts and wigs, men wear black hats and coats, children attend religious schools.
Black teen-agers play basketball in playgrounds. Spicy jerk chicken roasts in a barrel outside a Caribbean luncheonette. Black physicians occupy stately houses on "Doctors Row."

Efforts continue to bridge the divide.
A black-owned karate school is creating a self-defense class for Lubavitch women at the request of a rabbi. Mr. Hecht dreams of a high-tech center where blacks and Jews can run businesses side by side.
A Jewish Children's Museum is being built on Eastern Parkway in the hope that it will be visited by "every child, regardless of race, color or creed," says Devorah Halberstam, who created it in honor of her son, Ari, murdered three years after the riots by a Lebanese immigrant who shot up a van carrying Lubavitch boys.
If children learn about Judaism, she says, "all of a sudden it doesn't sound so weird or strange. It adds a certain kind of acceptance."
Richard Green pledges to bring the children with whom he works at the Crown Heights Youth Collective — most of them black — to visit the museum.
He remembers when Ari was shot. "I went to St. Vincent's Hospital personally," recalls the black community activist. "Why? Because it was a youth from Crown Heights."

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