New York City’s Crown Heights riots began on August 18,1991, when a car in Lubavitcher
Rebbe Menachem Schneerson’s convoy struck and killed a black child. Violence and
destruction ensued in the poor, racially divided community. Within hours, Yankel Rosenbaum,
a student visiting from Australia, was murdered. The mayhem, which lasted three
days, was a tragic indicator of the level of misunderstanding and mistrust that had grown
in the previous two decades. For many, like Rabbi Beryl Epstein (opposite page, top
photo) o f the Chassidic Discovery Center, a non-profit that educates people about Hasidism,
the riots inspired efforts for reconciliation. Interfaith and black-Jewish dialogue
groups such as Rabbi Marc Schneier’s Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and Crown
Heights groups like M others to M others and Project Care emerged, helping forge alliances
anew. Black leaders during this period include the Reverends Jesse Jackson and
A1 Sharpton, both polarizing figures for the Jewish community. Through the 1990s and
first years of the new century, memories o f the Black Power movement, Crown Heights
and other tensions have receded and racial cooperation has come to the fore once again.
Despite lingering suspicions, most blacks strongly identify with Israel. More recently,
the enthusiasm with which young Jews and blacks have worked to stop the genocide
in Darfur has reignited a sense of common purpose and social activism. Many American
synagogues display “Save Darfur” banners and send buses o f congregants to attend
demonstrations. The Save Darfur Coalition itself was co-founded by the United States
Holocaust Memorial Museum and the American Jewish World Service in 2004.