Brooklyn Jews Worry Over Wave of 'Knockout' Attacks

In Crown Heights, Urban Game Triggers Old Fears

By Julie Wiener

Published November 26, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(JTA) — Chava, a student at a Chabad seminary, has lived in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn for six years, but it’s only in the past few days that she started carrying pepper spray in her handbag.

Her younger brother gave her the deterrent after news hit of a string of recent attacks against Orthodox Jews, seven of them in Crown Heights.

The assaults, believed to be part of a national wave of so-called “knockout game” attacks in which black teens punch random white strangers for sport, are unnerving Jews in the racially mixed neighborhood still haunted by the days of rioting there in 1991.

The latest attack came Monday, when a 72-year-old Russian-speaking Jewish woman was punched in the East New York neighborhood, according to the Daily News.

“I’ve definitely been more cautious since [the attacks] started,” Chava told JTA as she waited to pick up a hot drink at Chocolate, a kosher cafe inside the Jewish Children’s Museum. “I’ve been hearing about it, and I saw the footage. I’m looking around. I’m always aware of my surroundings.”

In other American cities, knockout victims have been non-Jewish whites. In New York, the victims of all nine punching attacks reported so far appear to be Jewish, and the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes Unit is investigating.

It is unclear whether the attacks, none of which have involved robberies, are linked. A police spokesman interviewed last Friday declined to share details about the incidents but said that eight of the Brooklyn attacks fall into the hate crimes category.

For the time being, the NYPD has deployed more police officers to Crown Heights. On Monday, several police vans, a mobile command center, police cars and two officers on horseback were stationed near the corner of Eastern Parkway and Kingston Avenue, a bustling commercial street with bakeries, groceries and Judaica stores, and home to the world headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch and the Jewish Children’s Museum.

Inside the museum, Michael Harel, the manager of Chocolate and an Israeli who has lived in Crown Heights for 13 years, said there is plenty of tension between blacks and Jews in the neighborhood, some of it attributable to class resentment.

“Back in the days there were a lot of problems here,” he said. “Looks like it’s coming back.”

But Pinchas Woolstone, a cafe patron, said Crown Heights is “light years away” from the era of the riots. Although he has lived in Crown Heights for only six years, Woolstone said he used to visit the neighborhood in the 1970s, when it resembled “a war zone.”

“No black person or Jewish person would speak to each other; they hardly looked at each other,” recalled the Australia native, who works for a commercial cleaning company. “The latest little flareup is not good, but we shouldn’t contemplate it’s anything like it used to be.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton publicly condemned the knockout attacks.

“There is nothing funny or even remotely entertaining about attacking innocents walking down the street,” he wrote in a column for the Huffington Post. “This is not a ‘game’; it is inhumane behavior that has no place in our country or the world.”


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!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • 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.