Race and Reli­gion Among the Cho­sen Peo­ples of Crown Heights

Hen­ry Goldschmidt
  • Review
By – March 23, 2012

It was August, 1991, when a young black Guyanese-Amer­i­can sev­en-year-old boy in Crown Heights, Brook­lyn was struck by a car in the motor­cade of the Lubav­itch­er Rebbe, Men­achem Mendel Schneer­son. This sparked three days of con­flict between Blacks and Jews in which stores were loot­ed, rocks were thrown and a twen­ty year old Aus­tralian Ortho­dox Jew, Yankel Rosen­baum, died as the result of being stabbed by a black youth. Hen­ry Gold­schmidt in his book Race and Reli­gion Among the Cho­sen Peo­ples of Crown Heights ana­lyzes this inci­dent and the social forces lead­ing up to it and occur­ring after­ward. He uses this inci­dent as the spring­board to exam­ine the nature of Black-Jew­ish dif­fer­ences in Crown Heights” and ques­tion the tak­en-for-grant­ed assump­tions about race and reli­gion that shape the pol­i­tics — and per­cep­tions — of con­flict in Crown Heights.” He uses the vehi­cle of ethno­graph­ic research — liv­ing, observ­ing, lis­ten­ing, and immers­ing him­self — in the com­mu­ni­ty cou­pled with exten­sive inter­view­ing of Jews, African Amer­i­cans, and Afro-Caribbean Amer­i­cans. Gold­schmidt comes to an array of fas­ci­nat­ing con­clu­sions about Jews, Hasidism, and specif­i­cal­ly the Lubav­itch, and the dis­tinc­tive role they play in Crown Heights and the larg­er Jew­ish community. 

For the aver­age read­er, this book will be dif­fi­cult read­ing but it is a must read for pol­i­cy mak­ers and schol­ars con­cerned with Chabad, Jew­ish inter­group rela­tions, New York pol­i­tics, and African Amer­i­can and Caribbean eth­nic groups. 

Hen­ry Gold­schmidt is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor of reli­gion and soci­ety at Wes­leyan Uni­ver­si­ty. He is the co-edi­tor of the col­lec­tion, Race, Nation, and Reli­gion in the Amer­i­c­as (Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Press: 2004). Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, notes.

Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

Discussion Questions