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July 7, 2015 / 20 Tammuz, 5775
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Spinning History

“Big Town Chronicles/The Daily News History of Modern New York” is a regular feature in the New York Daily News and often provides interesting, nostalgic glimpses back into New York City's recent past. A wide variety of topics have found their way into the column, usually with little attendant controversy. So we were shocked by what appeared on Monday October 8, 2001 under the title, Hasidim. December 1978-February 1979. Not only was there nothing at all of the rich Hasidic life in New York, but the article was downright nasty. With our emphasis, here are some excerpts:

Like the Shakers and the Amish and other such fundamentalist recluses, the thousands of Eastern European Hasidic Jews who in the 1940's began to colonize the Brooklyn neighberhoods of Williamsburg and Crown Heights and Borough Park eventually found themselves in collision with the more secular way of life around them….

“Caricatures,” Rabbi Nathan Perilman of Manhattan's Temple Emanuel called Hasidim. “Grotesque distortion of Judaism.”
And so it went. A dispute over entitlement to limited public housing was reduced to “The Brooklyn Hasidim were furious in the Mid-1950's … when they discovered that they could not have public housing projects all to themselves.”

The Maccabees, a group formed with official approval to provide escort for Jews in high-crime areas, was described as, “Vigilante squads … prowling the streets in radio cars.”

“[M]ore than 3,000 Hasidim mobbed outside the 68th Precinct stationhouse on 16th Ave., charging the door and howling for blood” is the way an unfortunate demonstration against alleged police brutality was described.

Some interpretation of historical fact is to be expected. But this sort of thing went beyond the pale.

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Beyond the particulars of this tragic death, however, we should all be concerned about the possibility that a criminal prosecution in a major American city is being driven by fear of mobs in the street.

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