Forward Thinking

Al Sharpton Winks at Rabbi Heschel

By Gal Beckerman

  • Print
  • Share Share

In what is the closest he will probably ever come to an apology, Al Sharpton (onetime firebrand turned soon-to-be MSNBC host) writes in today’s Daily News about his conduct during the Crown Heights riots that “our language and tone sometimes exacerbated tensions and played to the extremists rather than raising the issue of the value of this young man whom we were so concerned about.”

Even a partial acknowledgment of some responsibility is a significant move for Sharpton, especially after he recently pulled out of an event at the Hamptons Synagogue to mark the 20th anniversary of the riots after the brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, the rabbinical student killed during the violence, criticized Sharpton for his role in sparking it.

Still, having recently immersed myself in the history of what happened in Crown Heights in 1991, I can see in the third paragraph of Sharpton’s piece a line that will be a deal breaker for those Jews who are still bearing grudges. Sharpton says that on the night he arrived in the Brooklyn neighborhood, he could “see brick-throwing on all sides.” This interpretation of what happened will not go down well with many Jews who have come to see what happened as a “pogrom” and not violence committed by both sides.

In addition to regretting that he used inflammatory rhetoric, like using the funeral of Gavin Cato to talk about “the diamond merchants right here in Crown Heights,” Sharpton also laments:

The other thing that we should have expressed more clearly was the precious value of Yankel Rosenbaum, who was killed by a mob that night. The fact that I was not anywhere near Crown Heights and knew nothing about the events did not mean I shouldn’t have addressed that in my eulogy — because the real lesson of Crown Heights is that we can’t keep choosing between whose life is of more value and who is a greater victim. All these years later, there are still those who would rather choose victims than help all of us as a society choose constructive problem-solving over rancor and violence.

The piece ends on a surreal note with Sharpton recalling how he was taken to the Jewish Theological Seminary after Martin Luther King’s assassination to meet Abraham Joshua Heschel, King’s friend and fellow civil right activist. Heschel sermonized a bit for the young activist with the James Brown hair, telling him: “Young man, only big men can achieve big things. Small men cannot fulfill big missions. Dr. King was a big man.”

This is the story Sharpton said he would have liked to have recounted at Cato’s funeral. But instead of being a big man, he was all too little back then.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Crown Heights Riots, Al Sharpton, Black-Jewish Relations, Abraham Joshua Heschel

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!
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • 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.