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Old Tensions Resurface After Chabad Attack

A Jew of color in Crown Heights braces for racist backlash

Ben Faulding
December 10, 2014
Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. (Colin D. Young)
Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. (Colin D. Young)

On Tuesday morning, I waited for the other shoe to drop.

I read the shocking news about the early morning attack at the Chabad Headquarters in Brooklyn, an attack that hit so close to home, just 1,600 steps from my front door. A knife-wielding man entered 770 Eastern Parkway and stabbed an Israeli student before being shot by police. Blood spilled where I’ve danced, drunk, and prayed.

I was worried, but it wasn’t the random act of violence that I feared. I feared the other shoe.

I trudged miserably through the December rain to the morning Shacharit service, arriving late as usual. Wet. Confused. Cold. Miserable. Scared.

On this day the shul sshh-ers lost before the battle had begun—everyone was discussing the morning’s events. I gleaned a few new details, learning of the assailant’s death at the scene. And I waited for the other shoe to drop.

I prayed; as always, with distraction and a helping of angst. Then, as the men of my shul were finishing with their tefillin, somebody suggested we say Chapter 20 of Tehillim, or psalms, a common Jewish practice when a person is recovering from illness or injury.

“Why?” A young boy answered. “The shvartze’s already dead.”



I was repulsed. By the boy who made the comment. Maybe he doesn’t know better, but I was still repulsed. By the reaction. The inevitability. As a black Jew, I know it’s always coming.

There it is, what I always dread. The backlash. The race backlash. It always comes. Sometimes it’s big, sometimes small, but it always comes.

Living in Crown Heights, there are going to be incidents: attacks, muggings. But each one brings with it a new referendum of the entire black community, as if there even is such a singular, collective identity.

I have a confession. Whenever I hear about a Jew being attacked in Crown Heights, there’s a part of me–not an insignificant part–that hopes another Jew is responsible. It brings me no pride to feel this way. It’s a secret I’ve held onto for years, that I hope the problem will have come from within the community. That way, the anger will be directed inward and not outward, perhaps with some amount of introspection or consideration. But not this time.

Blame the mayor.

Blame the cops.

Blame Obama.

Blame the blacks.

The accusations will start, followed by recriminations.

Then eventually, somebody will ask for my opinion, regardless of whether or not it’s something I feel comfortable sharing. I’ve been interrogated by friends and acquaintances about my thoughts on the protests in Ferguson, or the Trayvon Martin shooting, as though I should have an answer.

Thy hysteria surrounding last year’s rash of ‘knockout-attacks,’ in which Brooklyn residents, many of them visibly religious Jews, were being punched on the street by groups of teens, often black, was particularly stressful. I was both looking over my shoulder and being made to feel somehow responsible. I spent many hours trying to rationalize the attacks and explain that they were being over-hyped by the media. It was as much self-preservation as it was debate. As it always is when it comes to complex issues regarding race, even today.

But what made the early-morning attack so terrifying was that it could have happened to any of us in the community: Jewish, Lubavitch, Crown Heights. It was so directed, yet so random, that it’s impossible to not take it personally. It’s as though we were all stabbed, somehow.

And for some of us, it feels like being stabbed twice.

Ben Faulding is a photographer and writer living in Crown Heights. He received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Queens College. A version of this post originally appeared on his blog.

Ben Faulding is a photographer and writer living in Crown Heights. He received a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Queens College.