This weekend's anniversary of the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, uncovered some old wounds when Reverend Al Sharpton was asked to speak on a panel titled, "State of Black-Jewish Relations: Twenty Years after Crown Heights" at a synagogue in the Hamptons. Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother Yankel was killed in the violence, called Sharpton's inclusion "an absolute disgrace," arguing that, "His vile rhetoric incited the rioting." While the reverend disputes this version of history, he has agreed not to participate in a letter to the synagogue's Rabbi Marc Schneier, but fought back against his critics, who he says "want to engage in the business of division and distortion rather than ... attempt to have dialogue even among those that may disagree."
In his letter, obtained by Global Grind, Sharpton acknowledges the loss suffered by Norman Rosenbaum and writes that because his appearance "would cause pain to him, I, out of respect to his request, have decided to decline to participate in Sunday's event." But Sharpton also goes on to defend himself from accusations about his role in the riots:
Governor Mario Cuomo commissioned a state study on Crown Heights that painstakingly examined all sides. Even that report made it clear that I had no role in any violence. In fact, the night that Yankel Rosenbaum was viciously killed I was at home in New Jersey and did not know that any violence had occurred. I came into Crown Heights and eulogized Gavin Cato at the request of his family and led peaceful protests. If people disagreed with my language or reasons for peaceful protests, that is why you have dialogue, which we have had many forums about over the last twenty years.
Through a spokesperson, Rosenbaum called Sharpton's decision "great news," but added, "Sharpton ran from the perfect opportunity to apologize to the Jewish community." Rabbi Schneier has agreed to reschedule the panel.