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Brooklyn, NY - Unity Or Insensitivity? Crown Heights Festival Evokes Strong Reactions

Published on: August 17, 2016 11:59 PM
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Richard Green of Project CARE,  Norman Rosenbaum brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, and Carmel Cato, father of Gavin Cato, and Isaac Abraham, Sender Schwartz have represented the Rosenbaum family for the last 25 years (Shimon Gifter/VINnews.com)Richard Green of Project CARE,  Norman Rosenbaum brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, and Carmel Cato, father of Gavin Cato, and Isaac Abraham, Sender Schwartz have represented the Rosenbaum family for the last 25 years (Shimon Gifter/VINnews.com)

Brooklyn, NY - A celebration designed to foster unity in a Brooklyn neighborhood 25 years after devastating riots swept through the area is being met by some with eager anticipation, while others have categorized the event as being wholly inappropriate.

The One Crown Heights festival will take place on Sunday, August 21st, two days after the anniversary of the tragic Crown Heights race riots, triggered by the accidental death of seven year old Gavin Cato who was killed when he was pinned to a wall by a car that was part of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s motorcade on August 19th, 1991.

Several hours later, 29 year old Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian rabbinical student who was learning in a Crown Heights yeshiva, was murdered by a mob repeatedly chanting “Kill the Jew.” 

The day’s events will begin at 11 AM with a two hour commemorative ceremony at the Jewish Children’s Museum, followed by a neighborhood festival at Brower Park featuring live music and entertainment, kosher and non-kosher food, games, rides and arts and crafts. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum will also be open free of charge from 10 AM to 5 PM.

The official flyer for the festival describes the event as an opportunity to “meet your neighbors,” avoiding the more delicate issues by saying only “25th Anniversary of the Events of August 20, 1991.” 

The New York Post reported that event planners hope the celebration will mark the reconciliation between the Jewish and African-American communities of Crown Heights and the many steps taken towards greater harmony in the racially diverse neighborhood.

Event organizer Richard Green of Project CARE, one of several who gathered for lunch on Wednesday at Essen NY Deli in Flatbush, said that the two hour commemorative ceremony will be a somber and reflective gathering that would give leaders from both communities an opportunity to publicly share their feelings. 

, also attended the lunch meeting and Green said it would be a privilege to have both speak publicly at the event.

Neither of the men seemed eager to participate.  Carmel Cato declined to give any response, while Rosenbaum has publicly blasted the event.

“The decision to hold a ‘community festival’ to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Crown Heights riot is shameful and a disgrace,” Rosenbaum said one day earlier. “It is an insult to the memory of Yankel Rosenbaum.”

Rosenbaum, who lives in Australia, comes to New York every summer to commemorate his brother’s murder.  The two men forged an unlikely friendship, exchanging emails and meeting occasionally, after Cato reached out to Rosenbaum years ago.

“As a father, I wanted to see things better,” said Cato. “I wanted the world, seeing that I was African American, and he was Jewish, I wanted the world to see that we could get along.”

Both Rosenbaum and Cato wanted to meet in person before mourning their losses separately this weekend, reported the Daily News.

“This Friday is the 25th anniversary of the passing of Gavin, terrible accident,” said Rosenbaum.  “It’s the day 25 years ago that Yankel was attacked. Friday we’ll have our own privacy. We respect one another’s privacy, our families’ privacies. We wanted to get together beforehand.”

While Rosenbaum has decried the festival as insensitive, another Crown Heights resident who lost a family member to an act of terror is actively involved in planning the event.

“If there is anybody who’s sensitive to this it’s me,” said Devorah Halberstam, whose son Ari was gunned down by a Lebanese terrorist while riding as a passenger in a van on the Brooklyn Bridge in 1994.

The festival is an opportunity to bring people together and intentionally incorporates an element of fun to entice children, explained Mrs. Halberstam,  director of foundations and government services at the Jewish Children’s Museum. The museum teaches children about Jewish heritage and culture and aims to foster   tolerance and a greater understanding of Jewish life in children of all faiths.

“We worked on this for a year,” noted Mrs. Halberstam.  “A lot of work went into it…we want all the kids and families to come.”

Yaacov Behrman, founder of the Jewish Future Alliance, disagreed with Mrs. Halberstam’s sentiments, taking organizers to task for their insensitivity in using a neighborhood festival to commemorate bloody riots.

“Holding a ‘festival’ described as ‘fun for all ages’ is unconscionable,” said Berhman.

Behrman took to Twitter, saying that event organizers owed the Rosenbaum family an apology and recalling how his own father was the victim of violence during the Crown Heights riots.

“My father was attacked by a group coming from that demonstration,” tweeted Behrman. “They hurled cinder blocks, bottles and bricks shouting “get the Jew.”

The One Crown Heights festival is presented by Project CARE in conjunction with multiple community organizations and institutions including the Anti Defamation League, Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Jewish Children’s Museum, the UJA-Federation of New York, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Congresswoman Yvette Clark and City Council members Robert Cornegy, Laurie Cumbo, Mathieu Eugene and Darlene Mealy.


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Read Comments (7)  —  Post Yours »

1

 Aug 18, 2016 at 02:14 AM Sholi-Katz Says:

My professor Samuel Kassow at Yivo ( one of the leading experts of Jewish History ) called City Hall the next morning and told them you have a "POGROM" on your hands. He was later attacked by others for calling it a pogrom and not a "disturbance". But as he explained it to us, it had every ingredient of a pogrom. - The lie, that Hatzola left Gavin in the streets, that fired up the group - One group violently attacked an the other, biased on ethnicity only "Get the Jew" - and the Authorities that took an oath to protect society stood back and allowed it to happen. The only difference here is the results, "only" 1 Jew was killed and several moderately hurt. In the good old times, pogroms had many killings, maiming's and hundreds of rapes. Using an intellectual comparison there is no doubt it was a POGROM. Yes, here in the USA, and it makes us uncomfortable to accept it.
You do not commemorate a "pogrom" with a festival in a park. You go into your Synagogues and Churches and mourn the victims and the 3 tragic days.
Can you imagine after the Bialystok pogrom an 1905 the victims and perpetrators would get together a year later in a park for amusements and a barbique - How silly.

2

 Aug 18, 2016 at 06:58 AM njmom Says:

I'm sure the organizers mean well but you don't commemorate tragedies with festivals. Nobody would make 9/11 a party day. If they want to have a different day "building community bridges," then I think it's a noble idea, but it shouldn't be done in memoriam to the riots...

3

 Aug 18, 2016 at 08:43 AM Max Says:

Reconciliation is usually a positive thing which could be done thru getting together and remembering the victims and discussing strategies that similar travesties should not occur. However , celebrating with a festival to remember is totally inappropriate because it makes a mockery and insensitivity of the tragic occurrence of that fateful day 25 years AGO.

4

 Aug 18, 2016 at 08:52 AM Tonchum Says:

I agree with #1. I don't think that there will ever be peace in Crown Heights. Years before the Pogrom in 1991, there were problems, in neighboring areas. I remember in the Fall of 1962, in Crown Heights, when a Rabbi was killed by a thug, in Williamsburg. In 1986, a Chassid was killed on a subway station in Crown Heights. To this day, the latter crime has never been solved. The police stated that it was a hate crime. Since 1991, there have been problems involving homicides, robberies, and other crimes against Yidden in Crown Heights. In other areas of the country, where neighborhoods have deteriorated because of crime, the Yidden have moved to the suburbs, away from the problem. Where is it written that Yidden have to stay in Crown Heights? The Jewish population of that area, is far less now, than it was 50 years ago. There are other frum areas, which are far safer, which Jews can move to. The hatred and jealousy against Jews in Crown Heights by certain groups in that area, has not abated in twenty five years.

5

 Aug 18, 2016 at 11:21 AM kenyaninwhitehouse Says:

#4, I will be clear and say who those "certain groups" are low life government welfare queens and their descendants that are of African descent whether "African-American" or Caribbean.

6

 Aug 18, 2016 at 02:24 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #4  
Tonchum Says:

I agree with #1. I don't think that there will ever be peace in Crown Heights. Years before the Pogrom in 1991, there were problems, in neighboring areas. I remember in the Fall of 1962, in Crown Heights, when a Rabbi was killed by a thug, in Williamsburg. In 1986, a Chassid was killed on a subway station in Crown Heights. To this day, the latter crime has never been solved. The police stated that it was a hate crime. Since 1991, there have been problems involving homicides, robberies, and other crimes against Yidden in Crown Heights. In other areas of the country, where neighborhoods have deteriorated because of crime, the Yidden have moved to the suburbs, away from the problem. Where is it written that Yidden have to stay in Crown Heights? The Jewish population of that area, is far less now, than it was 50 years ago. There are other frum areas, which are far safer, which Jews can move to. The hatred and jealousy against Jews in Crown Heights by certain groups in that area, has not abated in twenty five years.

What about the Yidden moving in, who want an Eruv that keeps getting torn down? It's not certain groups that are tearing it down every erev Shabbos.

7

 Aug 18, 2016 at 03:58 PM Ex- CH res Says:

I lived through the riots. I never want to go through that again, and it didn't end there - we were harassed and assaulted for a long time after by the Blacks, going out in the streets was frightening.

This "festival" is the most insensitive and thoughtless idea I have ever heard from the CH community "leaders", and I have personally heard some doozies. To remember a pogrom & the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum HY"D by organizing a party is outrageous. The CHJCC Board, Eli Cohen, chairman, and everyone associated with this debacle should resign.

A friend of mine who still lives in CH wondered how Mrs. Halberstam would feel if the Jewish community decided to hold a festival with the Muslim-Arab community in Brooklyn to remember Ari HY"D (yes, I was there then also.) Days after the original plans were shot down by everyone (except the morons responsible for them) it was announced that there would be some sort of vigil before the fun starts. Too little, too late.

This whole idea should be scrapped but since it won't be, I ask all Jews to boycott it. It is hurtful to the Rosenbaum family, the residents of CH & to all DECENT, CARING people everywhere.

8

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