Mike And Hasids:
Is Brooklyn Sect
On April 6, with Passover only a few days away, young men with yarmulkes on their heads and cardboard boxes in their arms rushed in and out of Schick’s Gourmet Bakery on 16th Avenue in the largely Hasidic Borough Park section of Brooklyn.
Their frantic loading of chocolate babka, mandel bread and rainbow cookies into a delivery truck seemed an innocent echo of the protests staged by hundreds of Orthodox Jews on the same street just two nights earlier. Young Jewish men carried boxes then too, piling them into dozens of bonfires as tensions flared between the usually peaceful community and the police.
“It kept on escalating,” said Sariel Widawsky, 49, a co-owner of Schick’s Bakery on the street where the protest began. “Instead of someone with a calm head just calming the situation down, more police came and more police came and the helicopters swooped down right into the crowd almost. It was like in a Hollywood movie.”
And it was a movie Mayor Michael Bloomberg would have preferred to miss.
Though Mr. Bloomberg enjoyed the support of the politically powerful Orthodox community last year, the protest indicated a level of frustration with an administration that prides itself on widespread popularity without having to appease a particular base. Mr. Bloomberg, some observers say, may have to work harder to reach an insular community that had a direct line to City Hall during the Giuliani years.
On Tuesday night at the protest, Mr. Felder, an Orthodox Jew who represents Borough Park and who was present at the protests, accused NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito of shouting, “Get the fucking Jews out of here!”
Chief Esposito, the city’s highest-ranking uniformed officer, was the commander of the neighborhood’s 66th Precinct from 1990 to 1993, and last October was given an award by the Shomrim Society, an organization of Jewish police officers.
The Mayor announced that the city’s Civilian Complaint Review Board would investigate the allegations against the chief. Mr. Felder and Mr. Hikind, who also represents Borough Park, met privately with Mr. Esposito late Thursday night.
“It was the three of us, and it was brutally honest and eye to eye,” said Mr. Hikind, who added that both he and Mr. Felder were satisfied with a letter that Mr. Esposito issued after the meeting.
“I used language that was inappropriate,” the letter read. “However, I can assure that nothing I said reflects my personal bias against you or the community.”
It is hard to imagine that such a meeting would have been necessary between cops and Orthodox leaders when Mr. Teitelbaum was around.
Then again, Mr. Teitelbaum’s influence appears to have come at great cost.
During the Giuliani administration, the Orthodox community benefited from a large share of the limited supply of day-care vouchers. After a 1997 protest in which thousands of Borough Park Orthodox rioted when a sheriff tried to impound a Hasidic man’s car, there was a drop in the number of cars towed in the neighborhood for several months, one source said.
Up the block on 49th Street, at the Famous Schwartz deli, a man with a long, graying beard and yarmulke wrote Passover Seder orders down right to left on a scrap of receipt. Like many of the people walking around Borough Park, he said the protest was really a response to police papering the neighborhood with tickets for parking violations.
“The thing is that here, they are giving tickets right and left. Even if you are sitting in the car, you get one. This is not right. This is why people are so upset. I think in the other neighborhoods, they don’t do this,” he said. “They take advantage here because the people are quiet and nice.”
Both Mr. Hikind and Mr. Felder argued that such excuses were unacceptable.
“I just want to say clearly that the behavior of the young people in our community was a horror, it was inexcusable—I don’t tolerate excuses for anyone,” said Mr. Hikind. But he also said some of the blame rested with the overreaction of the police, especially members of a task force brought in to assist the members of the 66th Precinct. On Monday, videos showing police using aggressive tactics against some of the protesters made their way around the city. “I hope that their tactics to fight terrorism are more effective than what happened in Borough Park,” Mr. Hikind added.
Late Thursday afternoon, things seemed to have settled back to normal at the Bobov Yeshiva on 48th Street. Old men with phylacteries wrapped around their creased foreheads and books fanned opened under their noses sidestepped boys playing tag. Teenagers, many of whom stood on the street corners Tuesday night, taunting police and lighting fires, studied in libraries stacked to the ceiling with leather-bound religious texts.
“Everybody is saying different things. The story is messed up; you can’t get a straight story,” said Israel Solomon, an 18-year-old who had just stepped out of the yeshiva, where he had been studying when the protest broke out. “Everyone was itching for a fight.”