Tamar Adelstein
Tamar Adelstein

August 19th – The 30th Anniversary of the Crown Heights Pogrom

BS”D

August 19th – The 30th Anniversary of the Crown Heights Pogrom

Not surprising the false narrative written about the Crown Heights Pogrom is being told once again as we observe its 30th anniversary, today, on August 19th.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “study” to the public officials who tried to excuse their actions to some major Jewish organizations who forgot what they were there for to sadly some in the local community, a fiction was created (that unfortunately has sold well) that had there been “communication, mutual understanding and respect” by the Jews in Crown Heights, the “riots” would not have happened.

I and my family were victims of the pogrom.   I was also the founder of Crown Heights Women, a group formed, providentially, at the beginning of August that summer in response to a series of frightening incidents in which Jewish women had been brutally attacked in their homes and many others were being followed outside as they walked to and from their shopping or bringing their kids to and from camp.

There were also Jewish women who reported bullets flying through their windows from drive by shootings between street gangs – all of which the 71st Precinct was thoroughly apathetic to.

For the record, none of these criminals were Chabad Chassidim.

After getting scores of signatures from Jewish women across Crown Heights on a petition I created demanding the police better patrol the neighborhood and take our concerns seriously, a very nice Community Affairs officer, who happened to be Black, was assigned to work with me.

When the above officer and I met sometime after the pogrom, we could only shake our heads in disbelief at the turn of events.

Tragically, the pogrom interrupted our efforts, that were all but forgotten, until six months later when the stalker, Romane LaFond, viciously stabbed to death my friend Pesha Leah LaPine.

Let us be clear, the pogrom was not the result of my, my family’s or my fellow Jews in Crown Heights lacking good communication skills, empathy, or respect for our Black neighbors.  Nor was it a lack of sympathy or feeling on our part for the tragic death of little Gavin Cato.

Claims otherwise are an affront to the memory of the Jewish lives lost that week.  Assertions that the Jewish community in Crown Heights bears equal or any responsibility for the “riots” is simply wrong and callously disregards the trauma our community, collectively and individually, endured at that time and afterwards.

THE PERPETRATORS

Vile Leonard Jeffries who repeatedly spewed anti-Semitic hate speech to Black audiences that summer.

Malevolent demagogue Al Sharpton, YM”SH, who was given a free pass throughout David Dinkins’ administration to foment and carry out anti-Semitic acts without repercussion.

Black “neighbors”, men and women, living in Crown Heights.  The myth that all of the “rioters” were from outside the neighborhood is a lie.  I will never forget the site of Black women on my block running home to get their umbrellas just after Al Sharpton gave the proverbial order to charge! at 2pm when it started to rain on the first day of the pogrom.  After all, no reason to ruin your hairdo while you’re busy ruining other people’s lives!

An apathetic if not antagonistic 71st Police Precinct with an attitude that the Jewish community in Crown Heights was, for the most part, expendable.

Anti-Semitic Mayor David Dinkins and his equally anti-Semitic Police Commissioner Lee Brown who together, intentionally, held police back from fulfilling their duty to quell the pogrom.

Dinkins’ publicity stunt at the hospital where Yankel Rosenbaum was taken also contributed to a delay in properly treating his mortal wounds.

Governor Mario Cuomo, who played politics with our safety and welfare, waited far too long before sending an aide to warn Mayor Dinkins that he would send in state troopers if he, Dinkins, would not order the police to stop the pogrom.

President Bush whose tightly sealed lips would not call out the National Guard to restore law and order and protect us.

District Attorney Charles Hynes’ who refused to indict Sharpton for his anti-Semitic incitement or his leading role in carrying out violence against our community.

Neither Sharpton, nor his cronies nor the vast majority of the frenzied, wild mob were ever arrested or brought to trial.

We can only beseech HaShem that Sharpton’s end will be just like Haman HaRasha’s – miyad mamash, hayom hazeh!

THE VICTIMS

Yankel Rosenbaum, HY”D

Mrs. Bracha Estricher, HY”D, an elderly Holocaust survivor who lived alone in a building not half a block down from the corner of President and Utica where Sharpton stood for hours on end chanting No Justice, No Peace, using despicable anti-Semitic hate speech, whipping up the crowd into a wild mob.

When the pogromists broke into Mrs. Estricher’s building and began pounding on her door, she panicked and sought to escape by jumping out her window but instead fell tragically, horribly to her death, HY”D.

My friend’s unborn baby whom she miscarried after being chased by one of the mobs in full view of the police who would not come to her aid.

Anthony Graziosi, an Italian man who was mistaken for a Jew and murdered by a mob of Black men on September 5th not far from where Yankel Rosenbaum was stabbed.

The community’s children coming home from sleepaway camp on the first day of pogrom were abruptly thrust into a shocking scene of chaos, danger, flames and utter lawlessness.

The community’s children from babies to teens who had to hide or lay low while Black mobs rampaged down their streets.

For the adults, our trust that a pogrom would never happen here in America, especially in New York City, was completely broken.  Our belief that in America the police would protect us was shattered. Our faith in the justice system was destroyed.

When the community’s class action lawsuit was brought to Court, those victims who testified (and not many were given the chance to do so) faced an unsympathetic and pompous magistrate.

Finally settled in 1998, Mayor Guiliani did not keep his promise to hold a press conference with all of the plaintiffs when he apologized on the City’s behalf but instead chose only a very select few.

As to the award, 1.1 million dollars for 91 victims including Yankel Rosenbaum’s estate was neither fair nor commensurate with the ordeal we went through.

Especially, when the very next day, it was announced that Pierre Regis, another “victim” of the event, was awarded 3.3 million dollars by the City.

On the night of August 19th, Regis tried three times to run over the police standing at the corner of President and Utica with his car until he was finally stopped after which the police roughed him up for trying to kill them.

Whether or not there was merit to his case, his lawsuit was deliberately kept quiet by the City, knowing we Jewish victims would have raised a justifiable storm over the obvious discrepancy between verdicts and compensation.

And, yes, the money matters because that would be the only penalty paid by New York City and its leaders to whom our safety and rights did not matter.

Looking back, I regret not joining Norman Rosenbaum when he asked me to drop out of the lawsuit and sue the City separately with him.

THE MIRACLES

That there were not more Jews murdered or wounded.

That there was not even greater property damage.

That we have recovered physically and, overall, emotionally.

For our family, personally, we were zocheh to amazing miracles during the pogrom including one that spared my youngest child at the time from severe injury after a beer bottle, thrown through the window she stood in line with, came crashing through.  Miraculously the bottle fell at her feet and not a shard or sliver of glass touched her!

The fall of Communism!

CROSS CURRENTS

  1. Eretz Yisroel and Shleimus HaAretz

After things eventually became relatively safer in Crown Heights, my group’s advocacy turned to address the infamous signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993.  All it takes is living through one pogrom to understand what Pikuach Nefesh means for any Jewish community but even more so in Eretz Yisroel!

For the past 28 years Crown Heights Women for the Safety and Integrity of Israel has endeavored to promulgate the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s directives for Shleimus HaAretz – which is the Rebbe’s term for preserving and protecting  the Land of Israel’s territorial integrity through security, settlement, and sovereignty.

  1. Sheva Mitzovs bringing world peace by spreading the Seven Universal Laws given to Mankind after the Great Flood, a campaign initiated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

3.  The New York City Mayoral Race

Democrat candidate Eric Adams is unwilling to renounce his association or friendship with Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton – that should be enough of a reason not to vote for him.

Republican candidate Curtis Sliwa seems to be a better choice for mayor what with his decades of leadership and organizational accomplishments behind him.  But Sliwa’s outrageous anti-Semitic remarks made in a 2018 speech at a Reform Party meeting cannot be ignored.  Nor the jabs he’s made periodically at Jews on his radio show.

Yes, he may be a bit of an Archie Bunker character but wrong is wrong.  Sliwa needs to show he can admit his mistakes and make a sincere public apology the Jewish community if he wants our vote.

May there peace upon the Land of Israel and wherever the Jewish People reside.

About the Author
I am originally from Buffalo, NY and although I did not have a religious upbringing I always felt a strong connection with Yiddishkeit and Eretz Yisroel. I still get chills recalling the moment the Rabbi announced that Israel had been attacked on Yom Kippur. In the weeks that followed, even though I really didn't understand all the details, I was the one student in my 10th grade Social Studies class who challenged our German-American teacher when he said Israel would be wiped out. Interestingly, the rest of Jewish kids in the class who came from much more Jewishly -oriented homes than I were silent. Years later I met one of them and was astounded to find out how they were all silently cheering me on. On the day the Jews were "disengaged" from Gush Katif, I was stopped in the grocery store (in Buffalo) by a little Jewish lady who whispered to me that she didn't think it was right what Israel was doing. Which just goes to show that there is a vast silent majority of Jews who agree with the Rebbe's approach to peace.
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