Inside the Ultra-Orthodox Shomrim Force

Jewish Security Patrol Wins Kudos and Takes Criticism

Courtesy of bpshomrim.org

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published November 25, 2011, issue of December 02, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vigilantes and Vindication in Hasidic Crown Heights
By Matthew Shaer
Wiley, 256 pages, $25.95

When 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky went missing in Brooklyn last June, it took two hours for anyone in Leiby’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhood to inform the police. The local volunteer Jewish security patrol heard almost immediately.

The patrol, known as the Shomrim, organized a massive posse to search Boro Park for the boy. But it was the police who found him days later — hacked to pieces, in a nearby dumpster and in the alleged murderer’s freezer.

Jewish security patrols have existed for decades in Orthodox enclaves in New York, but few have received as much outside attention as the Boro Park volunteers in the days after Leiby’s murder. Early on, the Shomrim’s rapid response drew praise, but after the praise came questions, some of them damning.

A new book by former Christian Science Monitor staff reporter Matthew Shaer goes some way toward explaining why Leiby’s parents didn’t call the cops when they lost their child. In Hasidic Brooklyn, the Jewish Orthodox security patrol is more than just a neighborhood watch: A powerful local force, it is central to communal identity, and in a community eager to preserve its insularity, it forms a buffer against secular authorities.

Shaer’s book, “Among Righteous Men: A Tale of Vigilantes and Vindication in Hasidic Crown Heights,” doesn’t deal directly with the Shomrim of Boro Park. Instead, it looks at a Lubavitch neighborhood in Crown Heights and digs deep into the culture and context of a similar patrol that operates there.

In December 2007, the Crown Heights Shomrim stormed a yeshiva dormitory unprovoked, thrashing yeshiva boys in a large-scale gang attack. Or perhaps the Shomrim themselves were ambushed, set upon and outnumbered after being lured into a trap. The brawl in room 107 at 749 Eastern Parkway — and the ongoing dispute about what actually happened there — is at the center of Shaer’s story. The implications of the fight ripple across Crown Heights and the entire Lubavitch empire.

The yeshiva boys and the Shomrim are on opposite sides of a rift within the Lubavitch movement over the memory of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement’s charismatic rebbe, who died in 1994. While the Lubavitch establishment fears that expression of the messianic hopes that continue to surround Schneerson might scare away nonobservant Jews, fervent radicals like the yeshiva boys are swept up in the hope of imminent redemption. Without a strong successor to heal the rift, the split has grown severe.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.