Forward Thinking

Shining a Light on Orthodox Safety Patrols in the Secular Press

By Naomi Zeveloff

Boro Park’s Orthodox neighborhood patrol group, known informally as the shomrim — Hebrew for watch guards — has faced increased media scrutiny in the past few weeks over its role in the investigation of the killing of 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky on July 12. At issue is the fact that Kletzky’s disappearance was first reported to the shomrim at least two hours before secular law enforcement officials were brought onto the scene, raising a host of “what ifs” about whether the murder might have been prevented. The controversy has raged even as New York Police Department commissioner Raymond Kelly told the New York Times that the time lag did not matter in the Kletzky case.

The debate has been roiling in the pages of the Jewish press since Hella Winston probed shomrim practices in the New York Jewish Week. More recently, it has spilled into the secular media. On August 1, Orthodox lawyer Michael Lesher published an indictment of the Jewish neighborhood patrols in the New York Post, asking, “Does anyone truly believe that Orthodox Jewish vigilantes like Flatbush Shomrim Safety Patrol, the Williamsburg Safety Patrol and the Smira Civilian Volunteer Patrol of Borough Park—all of them on the take for budget dollars in 2012—do the city a better service?”

On Sunday, the Post followed up with an editorial calling on the New York City Council to defund the shomrim and other patrols in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods that were collectively allocated some $130,000 in the 2012 budget: “They don’t have the same skills as the NYPD; in serious incidents, they can be as much a hindrance as a helping hand.”

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