SPECIAL COVERAGE: Anti-Semitism in Crown Heights

anti-semitism crown heights

For us, history doesn’t repeat itself. It never stops.

Hate is alive and vile. Once again, Jews are being targeted. And this time, it’s not just in Germany or France or Poland or Argentina.

The focus now is Brooklyn: In Crown Heights, Williamsburg, and other centers of Jewish life, Jews live in fear.

A recent spate of attacks against Jews has unnerved residents. Eerily reminiscent of the fear that rocked the community in the wake of the 1991 pogrom, Crown Heights is back in the news.

Hamodia spoke with local residents — both Jewish and non-Jewish — and got some surprising insights into what’s really happening.

We have a lot of questions. That doesn’t mean we have the answers. But one thing we do know: there are some people in power who have a lot to answer for.

As we speak to people in the communities, we wonder and worry about the silence of officials in leadership positions — from the local to the federal level. We call upon them to speak up — and take tangible action to address the hate and control the violence.

“Days of Hate” Return to Crown Heights

by Israel Bitton

I remember it like it was yesterday. The worried look on my mother’s face as she received a call from a black Jewish neighbor who relayed the news that my father and brother had been attacked and nearly killed by a raging mob around the corner from where we lived in Crown Heights. I don’t know where she got the audacity and nerve, but she immediately went out to find them, despite the mob, though by the time she reached the point of the attack, they had been taken to the hospital. Neither will I forget waking up the next morning, seeing my father’s badly bruised and cut forehead where a brick had hit him, or my brother’s big black eye where he had been struck by a fist in his face, or his tzitzis and undershirt that were slashed by a knife, which had missed cutting into him by a mere inch.

Eventually, I would learn the full details of what had happened.

anti-semitism crown heights
Mr. Isaac Bitton with the New York Post cover he was featured on, showing Robin Graubard’s photo of Issac and his 12-year-old son Yechiel during the riots. (Lubavitch Archives.)

My brother was with my father at work, because he was preparing for his bar mitzvah. They had been warned by my mother to take a taxi home, as all the adults could feel the tension in the air. After all, it was a mere couple of days since Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian yeshivah student, had been stabbed to death in broad daylight by Lemrick Nelson. Yankel’s “crime” was being Jewish in the aftermath of a terrible accident (which occurred on the corner of my block) that involved another Lubavitcher Chassid, and which had claimed the life of one black child, Gavin Cato, and seriously injured his cousin, Angela. As the story goes, when the two children were pinned under the car, a crowd formed and, instead of helping the children, they began to attack the Jewish man as though he had intentionally jumped the curb to hit those children.

The first ambulance on the scene was Hatzolah, and they were ordered by the police to “remove your guy before he gets killed,” while the severely injured children had to wait for the next ambulance to arrive. This set off what became known as the “Days of Hate” or, alternately, “Days of Rage,” to which our black mayor responded by telling his police department to “let them vent.”

Vent they did.

Cars were overturned and burned. Jewish homes were broken into and entered. Jewish families were terrorized. Yankel Rosenbaum was murdered in cold blood. And my father and brother were nearly killed by a mob of more than 50 enraged black youths who were chanting, “Jew, Jew, get the Jew!” As it turns out, the police were right there (there are pictures of the scene unfolding thanks to a quick-thinking old Russian Jewish lady in a high-rise — images that proved valuable later on when the city was sued), but they failed to act, to serve and protect, and instead they allowed the mob to administer a nearly fatal beating to my father and brother.

It was only thanks to a black journalist (to whom I owe my eternal gratitude), Peter Noel, that they made it out alive: He had redirected the mob by telling them with guile, “There are other Jews around the block, go get them, I’ll finish these off.” When the mob was gone, the police stepped in, and instead of giving my father and brother shelter in their car, they placed them on the trunk because they didn’t want “Jewish blood on their seats.”

The Friday night following the attacks, we went to shul (my father’s Sephardic shtiebel — ironically, the only one at the time that was comprised of several black Jewish families) and passed the scene of the crime; the sidewalk was still stained with my father’s blood. When we came back home, Al Sharpton, race-baiter par excellence, was at the corner leading a crowd in chants of “no justice, no peace!” The sound of his violent voice rings in my ears to this very day. This was 28 years ago.

The New Crown Heights

I was born and raised in Crown Heights, on the rougher side of town. After the riots, I never walked past someone without looking over my shoulder, as I lived in fear of imminent attack. When I asked my father later on why a group of black people attacked him, if they all hated us (I was 7 years old at the time), he told me that no, it was just a particular group who did this bad thing, and not to worry, for Hashem will deal with them. He said they don’t all hate us, and we don’t hate them. He told me that when he was on the trunk of the police car with blood dripping down his face and only half-conscious, a black woman came up to him with a look of horror on her face and assured him, “We’re not all like this; this doesn’t represent us; I’m terribly sorry.” My father couldn’t say much, so he nodded approvingly, and said, “I know, I know.” Those are words and lessons I will never forget.

anti-semitism crown heights
Mr. Isaac Bitton at the location where the New York Post photo was photographed. (Lubavitch Archives)

I left Crown Heights at the first opportunity I had, and I couldn’t leave faster. But life has a way of forcing you to confront that which you attempt to escape, and after sojourning in cities as disparate as Los Angeles and Yerushalayim, I’ve found myself back from whence I came. I was quite suspicious at first; my guard was up. But much has changed. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s there was a “white flight” from Crown Heights (save for the Lubavitchers who chose to remain as per the Rebbe’s statement that kahn tzivah Hashem es habrachah), in the past 10 years we’ve witnessed the Yuppification of the newly gentrified community. There was no longer a stark contrast between Chassidic Jews and Caribbean blacks. More intermediate shades had been filled in. The local economy was booming, and it seemed a page had been turned.

The New Rise of the Old Anti-Semitism

The years of relative quiet, the easing of tensions, as it turns out, was an illusion. The year 2019 has seen a 63% increase in violent hate crimes, a majority of which have been concentrated in Crown Heights and Williamsburg. In the past month, a Rabbi in his sixties was knocked to the ground by the slamming force of a boulder that broke his nose and several teeth. He’s alive because he managed to fight back, despite being stunned by the attacker whom he never saw coming.

That’s only the most recent example. Others have had heavy objects thrown at them, been pushed and shoved, spat on and cursed at — “Jew this” and “Jew that.” And surely we’re all seeing the now almost daily security camera footage of Chassidim being attacked, randomly punched in the face, or having their shtreimlech knocked off their heads.

The questions many have are, “Where did the hate go, and why did it return?” In truth, it never really left. Rather, it was swept under the rug, ultimately preserved for a time when the convenient “blame the Jews for our problems” would be necessary again. And the blame, despite the backgrounds of the perpetrators, lies not only with the black and Hispanic communities, but with the Jewish community as well. You see, this hate is not like, say, radical Islam. With the latter, there’s a certain ideology, an organizational structure, and a propaganda machine that churns out incendiary hatred that leads adherents to seek Jews out and bring them harm in the name of some grand mission. But with the current wave of violent anti-Semitism, there is no single ideology, group, leaders or movement that’s causing mostly youngsters to take up arms (literally) against random, visibly identifiable Jews.

anti-semitism crown heights
An NYPD car overturned by rioters in the Crown Heights. (AP Photo/Joe Major)

I recently spent time filming interviews of black residents of Crown Heights to try and understand where this hatred was coming from. The responses ran the gamut: It’s social media, it’s the broken home, it’s the churches that blame Jews for deicide, and of course, for good measure, greed and a lust for money and power, gentrification (as though the capitalist ideal of seeking maximum value on an investment is a uniquely Jewish idea), Israel’s treatment of Palestinians (an idea successfully lodged in the black American psyche by the likes of the notorious Jew-hating Linda Sarsour), ignorance about Jewish culture. One black friend who works for the city confided in me that it was because of the breakdown of respect for police due to the lax stance of our pacifist mayor, especially in light of the police brutality that spurred the Black Lives Matter movement.

If one were to peruse contemporary African-American literature on this subject, they’d find statements that echo these sentiments. When Jews say, “Hey, we marched with you, arms locked, in Selma and Birmingham with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” their response is, “Well, that was over 50 years ago,” and that the Jews have worked their way up the American sociopolitical ladder, whereas the black community remains left behind. That Jews are a minority, but a white minority who benefit from “white privilege” in a way that distorts our ability to empathize with the black struggle. There is certainly more than a modicum of truth to these assertions, though they’re more complicated matters than can be adduced here. But where these “explanations” for the breakdown in the once-sacred black-Jewish social justice alliance fail is in their ability to justify turning Jews into their enemies. Jews are not the only ones who own real estate that’s increasing in value and that pushes out lower-income minorities as a matter of capitalist fact. Jews aren’t the only ones who benefit from better police treatment due to their fairer complexion. And, in reality, the majority of American Jews remain overwhelmingly Democratic and Leftist in their political positions, so no, they have not turned their backs on those who continue to struggle to achieve the American dream.

So what can explain the utterly wanton, entirely senseless attacks we’re witnessing on mostly religious Jews in New York City? The sad reality is that there is no single — or even logical — answer. Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the history of anti-Semitism knows that it is inherently illogical. White non-Jews are also responsible for gentrification, as are Asians, but they aren’t being pummeled in broad daylight for no other reason than being who they are. Muslims aren’t being attacked for the actions of Saudia Arabia or Iran in Yemen. But Jews are, again, being blamed for the maladies of the local downtrodden and the ills of the world.

Thus, there is no answer; there has never been an answer to anti-Semitism. But there are solutions. Imperfect ones, but they are worth the effort if it saves both the lives of Jews who should not walk around with the feeling of having a target on their back, as well as those youths who, whatever they’re dealing with in their personal lives, succumb to the worst instincts of human nature, which is to seek aggrandizement by belittling others. And here, I will put the onus on the Jewish community: We cannot wait for others to change or do the right thing. One of the lessons I walked away with as I was filming those interviews of black residents of Crown Heights was just how thirsty the participants were to engage in dialogue, to be heard, to be acknowledged, to be respected. We cannot eliminate the hatred that is harbored in hearts we do not know, but we can engage those who are not filled with hatred so that the black-Jewish alliance is recreated anew, and so it can serve as the bulwark against the descent into unchecked hatred by youths who need more love and attention more than they need to express irrational hatred for people they ultimately know very little about.

Israel Bitton is the executive director of Americans Against Antisemitism, a growing coalition with a mission to combat growing antisemitism.


by Rishe Deitsch

Just before Rosh Hashanah, as I was walking down Crown Street to conduct the following interviews, I saw Rabbi Yona Gelerenter standing in front of his shul, Anshei Hrubashov, surrounded by shattered glass: Someone had come in the night and thrown a rock through the glass door of the shul. The sight of broken glass all over the sidewalk where my grandchildren play brought home to me the seriousness of what we are dealing with now in Crown Heights, and why Hamodia needed to report on it.


Gabriel Pierre, 52, came to the U.S. from Haiti and has been living in Brooklyn and working in Crown Heights for the past 11 years.

anti-semitism crown heights
Mr. Pierre holding the newborn great-grandchild of the Jews he works with.

Why did you leave Haiti and come here?

This country offers greater opportunity than in Haiti, so my wife and I immigrated in order to live, work, and raise our son here.

What was your experience with Jewish people back in Haiti?

I am a religious Christian. I study the Old Testament. The Old Testament is basically about the Jewish people. So even in Haiti, where I didn’t know any Jews, still, I knew what Judaism was about. I knew the Jews were the Chosen People, and I knew Genesis 12:3, where G-d tells Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I will curse, and all people on the earth will be blessed through you.” Since I moved here, I got to know Jewish people because most of my work is with Jewish people. I don’t want to work for others, I feel comfortable working for Jewish people. We believe in the same G-d. I feel very close with the Jewish people. In fact, last summer my wife and son, both Christians, toured Israel.

Why did your wife and son want to visit Israel?

Everything good and holy is in Israel! They wanted to experience the Bible more firsthand. We worship the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, too, and they wanted (and I wanted them) to visit the holy places and see where many events described in the Bible took place.

What is your role in your church?

I teach Bible. I try to teach about values and morals based on the Bible. I did the same in Haiti.

Do you think Christians suffer the same discrimination that Jews do?

Well, we share the Judeo-Christian ethic and, yes, we are persecuted for that.

Were you ever affected by any anti-Semitic crime? Are you aware of it becoming worse in Crown Heights?

The only crime I was the victim of was a phone scam that was covered in Hamodia Prime [July 17, 2019]. I am very comfortable in Crown Heights. I walk the streets at night and feel safe. But I did hear on the news about the crimes in Crown Heights, and I know there is discrimination against Jews.

Hitler used anti-Semitism to fuel the Holocaust; if he had not been able to convince the German people that Jews were inferior, there would not have been a Holocaust where six million Jews were murdered. Though there is less of it, and it is not as bad as it was then, that same anti-Semitism still exists today. And even those who are less extreme — not murderers — tend to think that Jews are cheap or greedy; that’s the stereotype. I have first-hand experience, and I can testify that this isn’t true.


Ibrahim Barrie, 26, came to the U.S. from Monrovia, Liberia, five years ago, and now lives in Crown Heights.

anti-semitism crown heights
Mr. Barrie working on an architectural project as he pursues his degree.

Why did you leave Liberia and move here?

There was instability and intolerance in Liberia, which improved a little when the civil war ended in 2003. Also, I knew that here I could study while also working. In Liberia, if you are studying you cannot also work. I’m studying architecture at the New York City College of Technology, and I care for a Jewish man on the weekends.

Have you seen the increase in anti-Semitism and crime in Crown Heights?

I don’t see it myself, but I do hear about it on the news. I think it stems from the fact that many people in Crown Heights lived here their whole lives and were raised only among their own kind. They’ve had very limited exposure to anyone different from themselves. So anyone even a little bit different is not accepted. They are almost scared of people who are different and don’t trust them.

How can we decrease this fear of people who are different?

Educate people about people from other cultures and teach them that all religions are good.

What is the attitude of most Muslims toward Israel?

My attitude is, I don’t like the bombing and killing on both sides; both Israelis and Palestinians are guilty of that.

You are a religious Muslim; you pray five times a day and fast for Ramadan. What were you taught about Jews?

In the Koran, Jews are called the people of the book.

That’s a nice compliment. Anything else about us in the Koran?

I’d rather not say.

Did you ever get into a conflict with a Jew?

Never. I don’t fight. I talk with people.

How does your Muslim family feel about you working for Jews on the weekends?

They don’t care about that, as long as I have work that is legal and morally upright.


Marie Pierrelouis, 55, came to the U.S. from Haiti 16 years ago because she felt it was safer than her native country, with lower rates of kidnapping and other crimes.

Do you know a lot of Jews? What has been your experience with Jews?

I’ve been a home health care aide for Jewish people for 12 years now. I prefer to work with Jewish people. It’s different; they treat you better. Also, my husband works at Methodist Hospital and is friends with his Jewish co-workers.

Have you noticed an uptick in violence against Jews in Crown Heights, and do you feel it is due to anti-Semitism?

I didn’t see it myself, but I read about it and I get upset when I hear about violence against Jews. The Jews are not a violent people, they are peace-loving, and this should not happen. In some cases, like the shootings in synagogues, or the violence against innocent people walking down the street, it is caused by anti-Semitism, but the rising crime is often just drug addicts looking for money.

What can Jews do differently to avoid these incidents?

There is nothing they can do differently. They did not cause these events and they cannot stop them.

You come to your job in Crown Heights every day, and you work for Jews. Are you afraid because of the news reports of growing crime and anti-Semitism?

I’m not afraid, but I do feel that, ultimately, anti-Semitic incidents are bad for everyone, not just Jews, because they show that people have lower moral standards. That is dangerous. But I like it here. I work with Ellen Gordon, a Jewish woman, who is like a sister to me. She and her family respect me and treat me well. I feel comfortable here.


Mr. D., 64, a Lubavitcher Chassid, has lived in Crown Heights since the age of four.

anti-semitism crown heights
770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad world headquarters since 1940. (Baruch Ezagui)

Did you ever experience anti-Semitism in Crown Heights?

Back in the 1960s, anti-Semitism was rampant in Crown Heights. Many times the attackers were not even after money. They just wanted to harm us. For example, one time when I was 11 years old, in 1966, I was walking on Crown Street in front of an apartment building between Troy and Schenectady Avenues and a non-Jewish girl shouted into my face, “Heil Hitler!” This was only a few years after the Holocaust, and at that moment she represented to me all the cruel, evil Nazis I had heard about, may their names and memories be erased.

This girl was a lot bigger than I was. But my father was a soldier in the Russian army. He taught us not to be afraid, and to defend ourselves and our fellow Jews. Without making any cheshbonos, I grabbed her by the Afro, lifted her up in the air and threw her down. Her family, watching from an upstairs window, came racing downstairs. By the time they came down I was gone, and I avoided that block for months.

Another time, shortly after my bar mitzvah in 1968, I was walking on Montgomery Street between Albany and Troy Avenues when three boys pushed me into an alley. All three were holding knives. This was pure anti-Semitism. They didn’t even ask me for money. Clearly, they just wanted to kill a Jew that day. I started screaming. I ran and grabbed the cover off a trash barrel to use as a shield. The three of them went after me, and one of them slashed my face with his knife. At this point, Rabbi Tzvi Abba Lerman, zol gezunt zein, came out of his house and chased the boys away. He saved my life and for the next several decades my mother sent him shalach manos and a thank-you card every Purim. There’s no question he put his own life in danger to save mine.

Avremi Goldman, Hy”d, wasn’t as lucky. In 1977, he was making a call at the phone booth on the corner of Troy and Montgomery, just a few feet from his yeshivah, and three Hispanic boys murdered him in cold blood, completely unprovoked and with nothing to gain. Many Jews were harmed and killed in Crown Heights in those years. In 1991, of course, there were the terrible and, we hope, unforgettable Crown Heights riots.

From 1994 to 2001, Giuliani was the mayor and he got crime in Crown Heights way down. After he left, within a few years, it started to rise again, and lately, of course, as everyone knows, there has been an uptick in these sorts of attacks.

Just a year and a half ago, I was outside on my back porch when a man walked up to me and demanded money. I went into the house and tried to lock the door behind me, but he forced his way inside and punched me in the face several times. He kept demanding money. I said, “I don’t have any money and I’m not giving it to you.” (My wife, an editor, later told me that I contradicted myself.) There’s no question this man would have tried to kill me had my nephew not come rushing upstairs at that moment, having heard the shouts and thumps and bangs. The perpetrator fled. He was apprehended and imprisoned but only briefly. He is free now.

So what’s the solution?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, zy”a, spoke several times about instituting a daily Moment of Silence in public schools so that children who are not davening to Hashem every day can still have one minute per day to meditate or pray. This should be instituted immediately in all public schools. It is free. It makes sense. There’s no reason not to do it. I wish some major Jewish organizations would take up this cause.

Anti-Semitism, we know, is sinah, from Har Sinai. We were chosen to receive the Torah so we are hated by some. But even people who hate don’t have to act on it, unless they are devoid of a conscience.

Boys who are not raised by fathers (this describes most violent criminals) and have no strong authority figure in their lives especially need their Heavenly Father to help them differentiate right from wrong, and to help them live by that knowledge. The Moment of Silence helps them remember Hashem and tune in to their conscience. Anything else is just a band-aid, not a real solution to the problem of people not having, or not living by, the old tried-and-true morals and values.


by Tamar Stone

CROWN HEIGHTS – New York City is a jungle. I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, a “normal” city. I was raised with an understanding of civility and respecting the difference between public and private behaviors. Perhaps that’s not a good thing; it has set me up for a life of disappointment while living in the jungle of New York.

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A Crown Heights Shmira Patrol vehicle. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

What is the main difference between life in a jungle and life in a “normal” city? First, a jungle has only one rule: If you do it and get away with it, you are a successful jungle-dweller, whereas in a normal city, you are supposed to abide by the law, and you can assume others are doing the same. Public opinion is supposed to support the idea of civility, or at least it used to. Nowadays, I’m not so sure.

I was seated in a packed subway train riding back home to Brooklyn with a few of my daughters last year. There were some loud people standing in the middle of the train and it seemed that most people were watching their interactions, me included. Just before my stop, a large African-American man seated across from me started to yell at me, “Why you looking at those people? You think they’re funny? All you Jewish people are rich and greedy!” The rest of the subway car sat silent. No one came to my defense. I grabbed my kids and exited as fast as I could.

There’s a nice parkway that runs along one edge of my neighborhood with a walking path, benches, and trees. A few long blocks down, there is a Starbucks and a branch of my bank. I used to like to take long walks, and over the past 30 years of living in Crown Heights, I have hardly ever walked anywhere outside our neighborhood. My husband reminds me about this nice parkway and I think, “Maybe I should try taking a walk there, again.” And so, on a nice sunny day, I will take a walk along this parkway. And every single time, I am zocheh to hearing someone yell at me from a passing car, “You [expletive deleted] Jews!!” “Go to the gas chambers!” “Die, Jew!!” Sometimes they don’t yell from a car, sometimes they are riding a bicycle which they try to ram into me while they’re yelling these compliments. Sometimes I have been alone, sometimes with my children.

A couple of months ago, two of my teenage daughters took the subway to a local mall. On the way home, they found themselves in a packed subway car. They were holding on to a pole and started to giggle. All of a sudden a big African-American man started to yell at them, “You [expletive deleted] Jews! You think you own the world! You’re trash! You should have died in the ovens!!” They were surprised by this outburst. They were equally surprised that the entire packed car sat silent. Needless to say, they jumped out at the next stop and waited for another train.

About a year ago, my best friend’s daughter, who was expecting at the time, was walking with a baby carriage past an apartment building. Suddenly an African-American woman ran out of the building, practically running into her. She kicked at the carriage, grabbed the sheitel from the Jewish woman’s head and threw it down onto the ground, all the while screaming vile anti-Semitic curses and threats. The Jewish woman called police and they arrested the attacker. Even though my friend’s daughter was willing to go to trial, the case fell apart. We have seen that many such cases somehow disappear …

When I first moved here, in 1990, the neighborhood was in stable if shabby condition. There was little growth, and our young marrieds were encouraged and expected to move out to establish Chabad Houses all over the world. Crown Heights may have been the center of Lubavitch, but it was more a spiritual powerhouse than a physical one. In August of 1991, just three weeks after giving birth to my second child, there was a car accident on my corner. That sparked two weeks of chaos and an open war on the Jews. Some people called it a riot. That’s not true. It was a pogrom, as only the Jews and Jewish property were targeted. Mayor David Dinkins basically told the police commissioner to let the African-American people vent.

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A Crown Heights Shmira Patrol vehicle near Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

For the next six months, we lived in a virtual police state. Two policemen were placed on every street corner in the parts of Crown Heights where Jews were concentrated. The African-Americans said it was proof that the Jews got preferential treatment.

Being a naive idealist, I was traumatized by the experience of having all my assumptions about living in America challenged. As much as I was disappointed in some of my African-American neighbors for supporting the hostility against the Jews, there was a part of me that admitted that perhaps we cannot all live a Kumbaya life; that anti-Semitism is real and will never go away. Humans have not yet found a way to eliminate jealousy and envy from their genetic make-up.

The real deep disappointment I felt in those days was the absolute betrayal we experienced from the Jewish establishment and organizations. Here we were, holed up in one room, being told by the police that they don’t escort people to safety — it would put one of their men in harm’s way … listening to the radio as African-American leaders called upon their people to “Come out to Crown Heights and teach the Jew dogs a lesson!” And what did our Jewish organizations do for us? Nothing.

Meanwhile, we heard comments from Jewish officials telling us that we “asked for trouble by staying in the ghetto” instead of moving out to the more upscale suburbs like regular Jews.

A Jewish policeman stationed on our corner commented to me, “You should really move out of this neighborhood; you’re not welcome here.”

Well, 25 years passed, and eventually I stopped having acute symptoms of PTSD and, like all of my community, started being lulled back into the LaLaLand belief that being Jewish and living in New York City was possible or even preferable.

And then I woke up one day to the news that people — MY people — were being physically and verbally attacked in our own neighborhood. That included me, my husband, my children, my friends, and neighbors. I could no longer pretend that my neighborhood was safe. And, unlike the pogrom of 1991, the hostility was not limited to just Crown Heights, but is now being experienced in all parts of this country.

In 1991, my family was living in what was then considered “on the border” of Jewish Crown Heights. Locally, we referred to our part of the neighborhood as “East Jerusalem” or “Beirut” — highlighting the hostile status-quo of those areas. And, just like in East Jerusalem or Beirut, a person could live in relative safety, until something happens to upset the so-called peace. I thought that our inside joke was just local knowledge. I didn’t realize, then, that it was sensed in wider circles. At some point, I started to listen to what the Lubavitcher Rebbe had been saying about Eretz Yisrael in comparison to Crown Heights, and I discovered that the Rebbe often said that what happened in Eretz Yisrael was felt in Crown Heights. After the 1991 pogrom, it became clear to me what that meant. Just as Eretz Yisrael has “borders” and “unsafe areas,” so does Crown Heights. Just as Jews in Eretz Yisrael live with their non-Jewish neighbors in an uneasy “peace,” so do the Jews of Crown Heights. Just as the Jews of Eretz Yisrael experience miracles and salvation when they are united as one people, even with their vast differences, so do the Jews of Crown Heights experience such miracles when we are united with achdus and ahavas Yisrael.

This is the lesson that I have learned from my years of living here: All of the people of Israel (wherever they are) will be rewarded with peace if we are united. G-d will shower his blessings upon us if we learn to love the spark of holiness within each one of us, no matter what we look like on the outside.