CROWN HEIGHTS — Following the recent fatal shooting of a local Hasidic rabbi in Florida and two assaults on Jewish residents — including on a 9-year-old boy — neighborhood leaders warned against a return to the "dark days" of 1991, when Crown Heights erupted into violence between the Orthodox and the African American communities.
Local rabbis, clergymen and elected officials gathered on Albany Avenue and Union Street Monday night to condemn the apparent spate of anti-Semitic acts, including the attack on 24-year-old Avrohom Wolosow at that intersection last week. Wolosow was punched in the head and knocked to the ground by three teenagers, according to police.
The assault was being investigated as a "bias incident" by the NYPD's Hate Crimes Unit. The suspects were described by police as black teens, but no further information was available.
“He was attacked because he was a Jew. He was wearing a black hat, a yarmulke,” said Chanina Sperlin of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, adding that a video of the incident gave no evidence of a robbery, or even an argument. “They punched him because he was a Jew.”
Like many of the leaders at the gathering, Sperlin alluded to the riots in the neighborhood in the early 90s, warning the crowd of returning to the “dark days.” The Crown Heights riots began 23 years and one day before Monday night's press conference.
Barry Sugar of the Jewish Leadership Council recounted witnessing the Crown Heights riots as a child, later praising the diversity and cohesiveness of the group as a “tremendous accomplishment,” while promising to fight any anti-Semitic acts.
“We will not run and we will not hide. We will stand up and we will fight. We will challenge any anti-Semitism or racism or bigotry from any corner,” he said.
Though the focus of the evening was on the recent assaults on Jews, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams invited two others to speak: the pastor of an East Flatbush church that may have been burned down by an arsonist and members of a mosque in south Brooklyn that has been vandalized in recent weeks. Adams emphasized the need to condemn religious persecution of all types in the borough.
“We will not tolerate violence on any group,” he said.
The evening ended with a short march south on Albany Avenue to the home of Rabbi Yosef Raksin, who was killed while walking to synagogue on a trip to Miami this month. There, Adams and Assemblyman Dov Hikind met with Raksin’s relatives, including Nechama Losh, his sister.
“A person should be able to walk down the street — be it in Florida, New York, Israel, or the Ukraine — and not be afraid that he’ll be murdered in cold blood,” Losh said, standing in the driveway of Raksin’s Empire Boulevard home, surrounded by a crush of reporters, photographers and politicians. “We have to educate our children, young and old, that people matter. You matter. I matter. We all matter. And that’s what’s important.”
Raksin's death is being investigated by the Miami-Dade Police Department, but has not yet been classified as a hate crime by that department, according to reports.
The suspects in that case were described by police as "younger black males" and one was said to be wearing a yellow shirt.