The complicated history of black-Jewish relations in Crown Heights — the best of it and the worst of it — came to the fore this week in the wake of several attacks on Jews.
Two days after a second Jewish man was brutally beaten in Crown Heights, community leaders responded with calls for unity, and the Anti-Defamation League announced rewards of $5,000 to anyone who could provide information.
“We did too much over the last 20-some-odd years to bring the community together,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams during a gathering on Monday of community leaders at the corner of Rutland Road and Schenectady Avenue, where the second attack took place. “We cannot let this undo that.”
Crown Heights was the scene of violent riots in 1991 when a 7-year-old boy, who was black, was fatally hit by a car driven by a Jew. A group of black teens then fatally stabbed a 29-year-old Jewish yeshiva student. Since then several bridge-building organizations formed, which are still going strong. But with two attacks in less than two weeks, leaders said it’s clear that more needs to be done.
“No Jew, no minority, should ever walk the streets in fear,” ADL’s Evan Bernstein said at the event. “We can’t let anti-Semitic attacks be normalized.”
“We can’t let anti-Semitic attacks be normalized.”
The first attack took place on Eastern Parkway near Kingston Avenue on April 14. Ari Ellis, 42, was walking to Chabad headquarters, at 770 Eastern Parkway, at about 3:30 a.m. and noticed a group of college-aged men and women of color across the street.
One of the men then started crossing over to him, and Ellis heard someone yell, “Don’t do it,” Ellis told The Jewish Week. The man said “You want to fight?’” and then punched Ellis, who grabbed him and started punching back. Ellis said he thought he had a chance of successfully defending himself until the others joined the fray, kicking and punching Ellis repeatedly before running away.
Ellis suffered a broken nose, significant back pain and a forehead cut that will require plastic surgery.
The second attack, on a 52-year-old man, came a week later, on April 21, at about 12:30 p.m. near the corner of East 46th Street and Rutland Road, according to police.
“As I was walking home I passed a man smoking a cigar … and I said ‘good afternoon’ to him,” Menachem Moskowitz told CrownHeights.info. “As soon as [I greeted] him he began yelling at me.”
The man said, “I hate Jews, you stole my money, all my mortgage, my house,” Moskowitz told ABC News. As he started to walk away, the man chased him and put him in a choke-hold long enough for Moskowitz to begin feeling dizzy and say the Shema, thinking he was about to die. He managed to get out of the hold and screamed for help — to which the attacker replied, “You don’t need help, I need to kill you,” according to CrownHeights.info.
Footage that emerged Monday confirmed the report, showing an attacker jump Moskowitz from behind, sending his hat and glasses flying, beating him, pushing him up against an iron fence and attempting to strangle him.
Support the New York Jewish Week
Our nonprofit newsroom depends on readers like you. Make a donation now to support independent Jewish journalism in New York.
Two passing nurses — a man and a woman — eventually pulled the attacker away. Moskowitz was treated for a black eye, severe bruising and a broken rib.
While Moskowitz’s attack is being investigated by the NYPD’s Hate Crimes Unit — probably because the attacker made anti-Semitic remarks — Ellis’ assault is not categorized as a hate crime.
Ellis doesn’t understand why not. “To me it’s almost insulting that anyone would think otherwise,” he said. “People say: ‘Maybe it’s just because you were white.’ Is that any better?” he asked.
JTA contributed to this report.