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