In 1940, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, rebbe of the Lubavitch Ḥasidim, relocated his court from Warsaw to the United States, settling not in one of Brooklyn’s Orthodox enclaves but in the middle-class Crown Heights neighborhood. His son-in-law and successor, the late Menachem Mendel Schneerson, insisted on remaining there long after most of the neighborhood’s non-Lubavitch Jews had left, and despite rising crime rates and urban disfunction. On the 30th anniversary of the Crown Heights pogrom, Dovid Margolin considers the history of this still-thriving Chabad-Lubavitch community:
Then an upper-middle-class neighborhood, Crown Heights had first been settled by Jews in the early 1900s, and by 1940 it was about 40-percent Jewish. Unlike in nearby Brownsville, [whose then-large Jewish community was overwhelmingly working class], many of its Jews lived in elegant brownstones and spacious apartment buildings with doormen. . . . No longer poor immigrants, the Jews of Crown Heights were now American Jews climbing the ladder of success and eager to show that they had arrived. Symbolic was the 1922 dedication of the massive Brooklyn Jewish Center on Eastern Parkway, the first “shul with a pool,” which counted the who’s who of Jewish society among its members.
Demographic changes, destructive social policies (including so-called “urban renewal), and, Margolin notes, “the disappearance of community-based policing,” would change all that:
In the face of an overwhelming tide of inner-city violence and destabilizing social collapse, in the spring of 1969 the rebbe announced publicly that he was not leaving Crown Heights, explaining that Jewish law expressly forbade the abandonment of a Jewish community.
[By the 1990s], the Jews were concentrated in a far smaller geographic area than decades earlier. Similarly, whereas Crown Heights had once contained a cross-section of Jewry, the majority of those who had remained in Crown Heights were Lubavitcher Ḥasidim. Nevertheless, the fact remained: the Jewish community still existed and was even growing, unlike the vanished Jewish communities of Brooklyn’s Brownsville, East New York, and East Flatbush neighborhoods, vast swaths of the Bronx and Queens, and old urban neighborhoods throughout the United States from Boston to Cleveland, and from Philadelphia to Chicago.