An Anniversary Marked in a Changed Crown Heights

Rabbi Eli Cohen of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council and Mike Joseph from steel pan group Harmony Music Makers shake hands at the One Crown Heights festival on August 21. (Photo by Stefano Giovannini in Brooklyn Paper)

Rabbi Eli Cohen of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council and Mike Joseph from steel pan group Harmony Music Makers shake hands at the One Crown Heights festival on Aug. 21. (Photo by Stefano Giovannini for Brooklyn Paper)

On Aug. 21, residents, community leaders and politicians gathered in Crown Heights at a festival marking the 25th anniversary of the neighborhood tensions and violence that divided the neighborhood. What came to be known as the Crown Heights riots were sparked by the death of a 7-year-old Black boy, Gavin Cato, run over by a vehicle in a motorcade carrying a prominent Jewish leader. Some time later, Yankel Rosenbaum, an Australian Jewish man, was stabbed and killed.

Rosenbaum’s brother Norman declined to attend the festival, while Cato’s father Carmel did attend. Nonetheless, hundreds of Blacks and Orthodox Jews came together in a changed Crown Heights, as Alexandra Simon of Brooklyn Paper reports.

Rabbi Eli Cohen, a lifelong Crown Heights resident, says he has seen the changes in the community first-hand, and hopes another festival happens for the 50th anniversary.

“A lot has changed — it’s a different community,” he said. “Crime has gone down, which has helped a lot of groups working together. We hope to be there for the next festival.”

Indeed, the demographics of the community have been changing in numerous ways, and not just because of gentrification. Amy Sarah Clark writes in The Jewish Week that what’s notable in particular is the diversification of the Jewish population of the neighborhood.

In the 1990s, the era of the Crown Heights riots, which began 25-years ago this month, there were basically two groups that lived in Crown Heights: African- and Caribbean-Americans and Lubavitchers. Now, two-and-a-half decades later, the neighborhood has diversified.

Over the past decade, the neighborhood has seen an influx of both families priced out of nearby Park Slope and adjacent Prospect Heights as well as post-college hipsters drawn by the neighborhood’s increasingly hip vibe, relatively affordable rent and quick subway ride to Manhattan. A sizeable number of Jews were among the newcomers: 20-something tikkun olam-oriented Reform Jews who got involved with Repair the World, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and other social justice organizations; families who have begun building up non-Lubavitch institutions including Kol Israel and the Open Orthodox Luria Academy.

And as these non-Chabad transplants move in, they’re revising what it means to be a Crown Heights Jew.

Although Jews make up only about 15 percent of the total population of Crown Heights, the growing diversity of Jews in the neighborhood has given it a special appeal, Clark writes. Go to The Jewish Week to read interviews with numerous Crown Heights residents who speak in detail about the “safe spaces” that have been created in the area, the Modern Orthodox, and how a spirit of “live and let live” seems to prevail.

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