On a damp Manhattan evening nineteen days after the Nelson verdict, several hundred Jews from around the city were gathered at the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League for a conference, "Confronting Anti-Semitism: Practical Responses."
For nearly two hours, the crowd sat in virtual silence as the assembled experts responded in reasoned, measured tones to the questions and the prodding of a moderator. They were dealing with a fictional scenario about a housing development where there was a series of escalating anti-Semitic incidents. The Reverend Guy Massie of Brooklyn, the chairman of the Jewish-Catholic Dialogue, glowingly detailed the role his church would play; Lieutenant Thomas Burke, the head of the Bias Unit, talked about how the cops would respond; and the state's human-rights commissioner, the city's human-rights commissioner, Brooklyn's deputy district attorney, and the rest of the panel made their contributions.
When the formal discussion was finished and the session was opened up for questions, it would have come as no surprise to find everyone sleeping. But as it turned out, they were only lying in wait. "I would like to know why," bellowed a Queens man, who was first at the mike, "when there was a pogrom in Brooklyn, when a person was killed only because he was a Jew—"
"Excuse me, but that is not what this meeting is about," interrupted the moderator. "Please limit your—"
"Let him speak," someone shouted.
"Don't silence him," another yelled.
"We are not here to discuss Crown Heights." The moderator pleaded in vain. "If you like, we can—"
"That's what we came for," screamed another man. "That's what you should be dealing with now. Jews are being beaten, killed. That's what. . . ." As he continued to shout, a security guard in a double-breasted, ventless suit that revealed a noticeable bulge by his hip moved toward the middle-aged man and wrapped him in a bear hug. The guard lifted him and was about to carry him out when several others started yelling.
"The traditional restraints on anti-Semitism have been lifted across all of Europe."
"Leave him alone." A woman who appeared to be the man's wife shrieked, "Don't touch him. Don't you dare. A Jew yet. This is not Berlin. Put him down."
When some measure of order returned, an Orthodox woman from Crown Heights began to speak. "I was a prisoner in my house for 72 hours," she said, her whole body quaking with emotion. "I was forced to hide in the bedroom with my six children. Our house was attacked twice, and the police wouldn't come to my family's aid. The mayor must answer the question. Even if he didn't hold back the police, he must answer for what happened. Why hasn't he investigated the situation? My children have been traumatized."
It went on like this for about 45 minutes, with every questioner tense, some on the verge of hysteria. One by one, they came to the microphones, and one by one, they pleaded for answers, help, reassurance. "What can you do," one Crown Heights resident asked, "when bottles and bricks are flying through the windows of your house and you call 911 twice, and both times you are asked, 'Would you like an officer to take a report about broken glass?' No one came to help us." An older man from Queens began to roar his statement into the microphone while the moderator was asking him to identify himself. Thinking she was trying to silence him, he just roared louder. "I don't care about anti-Semitism. The problem is anti-Semites. All I want is to be protected from attack."
The raw emotion and vulnerability—and the outbursts of antipathy in the weeks that followed—indicated just how long a road New Yorkers and their mayor have ahead of them. "One of the problems in dealing with this situation, if it can be dealt with at all," says Norman Podhoretz, "is that lies are told. You get the impression from most of the coverage of Crown Heights, for example, that there's a lot of hate, that these groups hate each other and you have to have dialogue and heal the wounds. I regard this as a lie. What you have is an aggression coming from the blacks against the Jews. It's not an evenhanded dispute in which both sides are guilty or at fault. So all these calls for dialogue are beside the point. I think there is a serious problem within the black community, and it has to be addressed as such. Most people know this in their hearts, but very few people say it."
Rabbi Jacob Goldstein of Community Board Nine agrees, but only up to a point. "All of the crimes here are always black on Jewish. It gets pretty exasperating. And then I hear all the time that we [blacks and Hasidim] should get together, have a social. Well, time out. That's not our thing. We're not gonna send our girls into their schools, and we don't expect them to send their girls into our schools. Period, end of paragraph. Why? Our lives are driven by religion. It's very hard for people in 1992 to understand this. But we can coexist," the rabbi says in an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone. "We have to begin to look at what binds us together, in terms of the community, the city, and the government, instead of what divides us, which happens to be religion and skin color."
On this point, the Reverend Butts concurs and feels strongly that it is time for both sides to let go of the incendiary rhetoric. "The Hasidim believe in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and they believe in assigning the blame and getting justice. . . . I don't think that justice will do anything," he says, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, "but leave us blind and toothless." Protesting the treatment of Soviet Jews nearly 30 years ago, King also said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Injustice to any people is a threat to justice to all people."