Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Hasidic semi-cops of New York

I don't know what to make of this story. I don't approve nor have affection for separatist groups. In many senses, this group is like how gangs guard their turf from rival ethnic groups. Sure, I don't see any malice - but the whole purpose of this group is to guard the community from outsiders.

On the other hand - they provide real life examples of antisemites attacking Hasidic Jews. In particular - Al Sharpton followers. Are all their actions within the confines of the Law? I can't tell from this article.

It is very much possible that it's a whole lot of nothing regarding a bunch of "mall-cops" trying to act tough.

Jewish street patrols curb crime – and generate controversy
Hasidic groups in New York patrol religious neighborhoods in marked cars, but they occasionally clash with outside groups and even among themselves.

The disheveled man looks momentarily confused. He’s wearing a puffy red coat that looks as if it was salvaged from the city dump. “Are you guys cops?” he asks.

He’s been set upon by four Hasidic Jews in the center aisle of House and Home Hardware on Flushing Avenue, a commercial strip that runs through the Hasidic section of Williamsburg in Brooklyn – a neighborhood uncanny for its resemblance to a 19th-century shtetl.

The man’s presence is as misplaced as a Hell’s Angel in Amish country. But it’s not just the grimy clothes that make him unwelcome: His pants are inexplicably torn open, exposing his boxer shorts to the frightened Hasidic patrons he’s been begging for money.

With bushy beards and black yarmulkes, the four Jews entreating the vagabond do so with an air of authority. Their intimidating posture, coupled with the two-way radios that hang from their belts, elicits the man’s question again: “Are you guys cops?”

“Just get out of here,” he’s told, with an expletive thrown in to convey gravity. The man leaves and order is returned to the shop.

The four enforcers may not be members of the New York Police Department, but to the hardware store manager, if they’re not exactly the law, they’re certainly keepers of the peace. They’re members of a volunteer civilian patrol called Shomrim (Hebrew for “watchers”), which, in addition to Williamsburg, has independently run chapters in Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Borough Park – all Brooklyn enclaves densely populated by religious Jews.

Some people see them as a model for helping curb urban crime, though others fault them for clashing with outside groups – and even among themselves.



With Hershkop piloting the minivan down Eastern Parkway, Lifshitz points to an intersection and recalls an incident from five years back, which, he says, illustrates the Shomrim’s reputation. Lifshitz was just 17 then, a newly minted Shomrim member. He was walking alone at night, on his way home from a wedding.

As he tells it, a black youth approached him and asked for the time. Lifshitz says he could see four other teens watching from across the street – and knew he was about to get jumped.

“No, I don’t have the time,” Lifshitz told him.

“You got a dollar?” the boy asked.

“No, I don’t got a dollar,” Lifshitz shot back.

“Give me a dollar!” the boy demanded, and suddenly Lifshitz was surrounded. He pulled his two-way radio from beneath his coat and issued a distress code. “10-13, 10-13,” he called. “Corner of Eastern Parkway and New York Avenue.”

“Yo, it’s the Jew police!” he says one kid yelled in alarm. The boys scattered, and, within minutes, 60 Shomrim arrived.

“They tried to mess with the wrong guy,” says Lifshitz. “That’s the stereotype I don’t like, that we’re prey. We’re not prey.”

Perhaps that's the whole point? Show some muscle to reduce the feelings of being "prey"?

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:48 PM

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