'Fun day' marking Crown Heights riots irks Jewish family

Family of Jewish student killed in the 1991 Crown Heights riots condemns street festival to commemorate that racial unrest in Brooklyn.

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Eliran Aharon

The family of the Jewish student killed in the 1991 Crown Heights riots condemned as “shameful” a street festival jointly planned by black and Jewish leaders to commemorate that racial unrest in Brooklyn.

Norman Rosenbaum, whose brother Yankel was killed by attackers on Aug. 20, 1991, used the term in a statement sent to the website Crownheights.info about the festival to be held Sunday.

“The decision to hold a ‘Community Festival’ to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Crown Heights Riots is shameful and a disgrace,” he wrote. “It is an insult to the memory of Yankel Rosenbaum who was murdered in the early hours of the riots for being a Jew. The late Mayor (Ed) Koch first called the riots for what they truly were – a pogrom! And it should never be forgotten, that pogrom was not a Community Festival!”

The neighborhood festival, known as One Crown Heights, is sponsored by civic groups and elected officials, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, along with the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Children’s Museum, according to a report Wednesday by the Daily Forward.

A notice for the festival, which appeared on the neighborhood website COLlive.com and elsewhere, promises “fun for all ages” with “kosher and nonkosher food.”

Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian Jew who was stabbed and killed by a group of black men during violence that erupted after 7-year-old Gavin Cato was killed by a car in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. During the three days of protests and violence that followed, nearly 200 people were injured.

One organizer of the fair, Devorah Halberstam, told the New York Post that the event was a tool to bring people together and denied it was in poor taste.

Crown Heights community activist Yaacov Behrman, in a statement published on Crownheights.info, credited blacks and Jews with coming together to mend the wounds since the riots.

Still, he said, “holding a neighborhood fun day to commemorate the riots is inexcusable and shamefully low.”

The controversy over the commemoration is a sign of the divisions that still persist a quarter century after the riots that shook New York in 1991, the Forward report read.

Leaders agree that everyday tensions are much lower now than they were 25 years ago on the streets that Hasidic Jews and mostly Caribbean-American blacks have shared for decades. But divisions remain, especially in the way that members of the two communities frame the riots.