Al Sharpton’s t’shuva

Al Sharpton’s t’shuva

The Crown Heights riots of 1991 are still an open wound in both the black and Jewish communities.
That was made painfully clear last week when the Rev. Al Sharpton, whom many accuse of stoking anger that led to those riots, was scheduled to participate in an event hosted by Hampton Synagogue on the “State of Black-Jewish Relations: Twenty Years after Crown Heights.”
Sharpton withdrew from the program after Norman Rosenbaum, the brother of Yankel Rosenbaum, who was killed in those riots, harshly criticized the synagogue’s rabbi, Marc Schneier, for including Sharpton.
The wound that is Crown Heights may stay sore for many more years to come. But let’s at least acknowledge Sharpton for trying to make amends.
In a column Sharpton wrote, which appeared Sunday in the New York Daily News, the reverend expressed regret for some of his volatile speech at that time.
For those who don’t remember, the riots started after Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black child, was struck and killed by a car in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in August 1991. Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jewish scholar visiting from Australia, was fatally stabbed later that night by a mob.
After the riots had subsided, at Cato’s funeral, Sharpton referred to the neighborhood’s Chasidic Jews as “diamond merchants.”
He also led a march through the streets of Crown Heights to the World Headquarters of the Lubavticher movement, his hundreds of followers shouting “No justice, no peace.”
And to a large degree, that’s the way it’s been for the past 20 years.
In his column, Sharpton wrote that had he known about Rosenbaum’s death while at Cato’s funeral — he says he didn’t — he would have spoken out against the hatred that led to it.
“I would still have stood up for Gavin Cato,” Sharpton wrote, “but I would have also included in my utterances that there was no justification or excuse for violence or for the death of Yankel Rosenbaum.”
We’ll take him at his word.
He also claimed his diamond merchants remark has been misconstrued over the years, saying it was not directed at the Jewish community, or even the Lubvatchers, but at specific families in the diamond industry.
“I spent years defending the statement, rather than recognizing that in hours of tension one must be clearer than any other time,” he wrote.
He, too, is right about that, though we’re not sure if his statement is an example of remorse or hindsight.
So, is this t’shuva on Sharpton’s part? To a degree yes, though it clearly won’t satisfy many in our community. More must be said, but it must be said in a forum of Jewish and black leaders, including Sharpton, where all grievances can be aired — respectfully.
That’s why we regret that Sharpton couldn’t attend the Hampton Synagogue forum, though we understand Norman Rosenbaum’s anger. Had he been there, the give and take would have gone much deeper than any op-ed piece ever could.
We believe in dialogue, between Jews and blacks, Jews and Muslims, Jews and Christians. Each of these relationships comes with baggage, and the only way rid ourselves of it is to communicate.
Nothing was gained by Sharpton’s absence. There could have been real healing had he shown up. An opportunity was missed, and that’s a shame.