Friday marked the 25th anniversary of the outbreak of the Crown Heights riots, precipitated when a ḥasidic driver accidentally hit and killed a black child. The media at the time reported what was happening in the Brooklyn neighborhood as “clashes” between “gangs” of black and Jewish youths, when—as was made clear by the official New York State report—all of the violence was committed by African-Americans and directed against Jews. While relations between the two communities have fortunately improved, the media persist in misunderstanding the local dynamics. Mordechai Lightstone, himself a Ḥasid who has lived in the neighborhood for over ten years, writes:
Today Crown Heights has been designated as “ground zero for gentrification.” . . . Suddenly a community of working- and middle-class families, both Jewish and black, find themselves no longer able to afford housing in the neighborhood they call home. . . .
Yet this displacement has been completely ignored in the media. Not once has the Jewish community been mentioned in the discussion. And why should it be? The story has already been framed: hipsters move in, black people are displaced. . . . Yes, there are ḥasidic Jews, almost entirely not from Crown Heights, who are active in real-estate development. But even in their respective neighborhoods they make up only a tiny sliver of the community. Yet somehow ḥasidic Jews of all types—teachers, scribes, plumbers, online merchants, and small-business owners of all backgrounds—have been relegated to only one role: the [stereotypical] ḥasidic landlord.
Ḥasidim are cast into the anti-Semitic stereotypes of old when it comes to Brooklyn. They are the alien force that preys upon the innocent, ever present but always foreign.