By Larry Gordon
This didn’t happen in Europe or Czarist Russia decades ago. It happened last week right here on Long Island when two boys whose yeshiva is located in this bucolic piece of attractive suburbia were taking a stroll on the Long Beach boardwalk just before night seder was to begin.
“We were walking and discussing what we had studied that day,” said the 17-year-old student who hails from Cleveland, Ohio. “We passed a bench where four young men and a young girl were sitting, and we really didn’t think anything of it.” It is not unusual for them and other students to walk at night on the boardwalk to get some air while preparing to go back into the beis midrash after dinner for night seder.
“We are walking and I sense that there is someone walking close behind us,” the young yeshiva student says. He explains that he and his friend did not want to get assaulted from behind, so they turned to face the people pursuing them, really hoping that there would be an exchange of words and little more.
“So this guy asks me where I’m from, and I say Ohio,” the Cleveland native says. “And he says to me, ‘Don’t you know that if you’re not from Long Beach you are not allowed on the boardwalk after dark.” He responded to the man, who he later learned was 20 years old, that he had not heard of any such rule. And the next thing he knows he is punched in the eye with all the force his attacker could muster.
I met this young yeshiva student in shul the other day. I did not know right away that he was the kid I had heard about that was roughed up in Long Beach last Thursday night. When I walked into the shul in Lawrence for Shacharis last Sunday morning, it momentarily struck me as a little odd that the young man sitting next to me was wearing sunglasses in shul.
But then someone perhaps a little bit more up on the news than I was pointed out that this was the young man who had been assaulted on the Long Beach boardwalk. I asked him to run through the sequence of events with me so that I could share it with our readers. He said that the perpetrator had broken four bones in his face, he was in pain, and he featured a world-class black eye.
As he explained, it was after dinner but before night seder and he was out for a walk with one of his friends from yeshiva. “It wasn’t until after the encounter but before the punch was thrown that I realized that the group of four men and one woman were drinking and appeared inebriated. The conversation began when we passed these people on the bench. They asked us what we were wearing on our heads, and we tried to ignore them. That’s when they ran up behind us.”
“I’m a pretty strong guy,” said the young man, and though he did not consider the fact that he was significantly outnumbered, he said, “I was concerned about my friend who is not as big as me.” So he told his friend to run back toward the yeshiva while he headed in the other direction. Fortunately, the other people did not follow his friend, and three of the four guys involved chased after our subject while his friend ran back to the yeshiva.
He said that he thought that one of the people chasing him had a weapon, perhaps even a gun in his hand, so he ran in a zigzag pattern hoping that if he was going to be shot at he would reduce the chance of being hit, G‑d forbid.
“I was bleeding pretty heavily, but I didn’t think I was going to pass out,” he said. “I saw my friend get away, and I was as glad as I could be under this type of situation that at least he wouldn’t be hurt.” He says that at one point as they were chasing him he feigned collapsing and rolled off the boardwalk onto a grassy area. It was already dark and possibly because they were drunk he managed to elude his pursuers and make his way into a nearby senior citizens’ center.
The young man asked the security guard to call the police. The guard asked him to wait a minute but he says that it was at that point that he just grabbed the phone and dialed 911 himself.
He explains that the police wanted to take him to a hospital but he said that he insisted on being driven back to yeshiva so that his friends would know that he was all right. The police took him to yeshiva, where he checked in with his rebbi and his friends. Then he went out with the police to search for the perpetrators. Unexpectedly, they found them near the same spot on the boardwalk where the incident and assault had begun.
In the course of the questioning, the victim related to police and detectives the conversation about the yarmulke he was wearing and the words “dirty Jew” that were directed at him and his friend by the attackers. This was a pivotal and a vital piece of information. As a result of those words uttered, the assault was now also a bias crime with much more serious criminal consequences.
The ringleader was taken in and is reportedly being charged with attempted murder and perpetrating a bias crime. The lawbooks refer to what took place as such, but we know it as being a classic anti-Semitic hate crime. How such a thing can take place so nonchalantly in 2012 is astounding.
But then, as I was finishing writing this story on Monday morning, hunkering down to withstand Hurricane Sandy, we decided to take a ride out to the boardwalk in Far Rockaway to observe Mother Nature in all her glory. We went to Beach 30th Street, where frankly I’ve never been and not specifically a part of Queens that you want to frequent.
Like everyone else, we wanted to see the higher-than-usual waves crashing against the shore and the beach erosion taking place before our eyes. We parked our car and walked along the boardwalk to grab a better view of the wildly dancing waves. That’s when three apparently African-American teens came from the other direction and started giggling and pointing at my two sons and me. As they passed us, they used the word “Hitler” and murmured something indistinguishable with the only discernible word being “Jews.”
One would like to think that—at the very least when New York is in preparation mode for a dangerous storm—some of the innate or perhaps even inborn animosities and hatefulness can be dispensed with as New Yorkers come together and brace for a dangerous storm. But I suppose that would be unrealistic and even silly. These types of incidents and the episode on the Long Beach boardwalk last week are a testament to an unaddressed ignorance that is both hurtful and dangerous.
That Jews can be assaulted in this fashion either physically or verbally speaks to an ingrained hate that percolates so deeply within some people that the only thing one can say is that they know it hurts people but they really have no idea about the historic implications of their derogatory remarks.
The 20-year-old perpetrator in Long Beach is being held in jail and is awaiting arraignment on assault and bias charges. The frightening thing is that if the victim in Long Beach did not have the resourcefulness to elude his attackers, the perpetrator would probably not have hesitated to murder the young man.
Fortunately, that did not happen. Ask that young attacker why he did what he did, and ask the black kids who called out “Hitler” to us on Monday for the reason they do those things. The answer would surely be that they do them because they do them, and they do them because everyone they know does the same thing. Shameful.v
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