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.