Thursday, September 11, 2008

Yankel Rosenbaum's Yarzeit, Crown Heights Riots, 9/11 : My Comments

Every year the mention of Yankel Rosenbaum's Yarzeit brings back memories of the Crown Heights riots back in 1991. Some memories stand out from that time.

One was during a lull in the disturbances. I went out to buy groceries. There was a lot of hate in the air. Our front windows had been busted out. Everyone was on edge. I was far more vigilant than usual when I went out. A friendly neighbour had warned me to watch my back. When I came back with the groceries, I noticed a guy holding a big rock coming toward me . I was weighed down with groceries. There was no place to run. A group of Black people was coming down the street. They looked like they were coming home from work. They looked okay. I quickened my pace and blended in with them. The guy with the rock tossed his rock aside. He didn't trust his own aim.

When the riots were going strong, I noticed that normally friendly neighbours looked away when I greeted them. Their expressions were more of fear than of hatred. I understood, and faced straight forward when passing them on the street. They were afraid to be seen speaking to me. I made eye contact and smiled, saying nothing. It was as though they were prisoners. I felt sorry for them. When peace returned so did the normal manner of greeting.

The drug dealers were angry about the riots. The strong police presence was bad for business. They wanted the riots to stop so the cops would go elesewhere. When the cops finally cracked down, I was talking with my African American neighbours again. We decided that we should pretend to hate each other so there would be more police protection. A few fake demonstrations some staged confrontations, and then we would have all the police protection we want.

Yankel Rosenbaum didn't come to America to fight. He came to study. The sad thing about bigotry is how it turns your skin into a uniform. The riots taught me a lot. It taught me to value the relative peace of America and to strive to preserve it, so that men like Yankel Rosenbaum can come to visit and go home in peace.


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Pearl Harbor was for my parent’s generation a time like the Kennedy assassination. Everyone remembered the room, the moment, the scents in the room where the horrible news came to them.

Indignation, anger and sorrow still seemed fresh when my mother would tell me of the treachery of the attack. Somehow a transcendant sense of unity and purpose carried the nation through the years that followed.

The term “A day that will live in infamy” was coined to describe the bombing of Pearl Harbor. For years, it was a solitary epitaph for the dead of a single morning. On September 11, 2001, these words were resurrected for thousands more who were laid to rest not in funereal dignity but in gray clouds of smoke , leaping flames and nameless resting places.

The murder of sleeping sailors was “a day that will live in infamy. What is the murder of unarmed office workers , of janitors, cooks and visitors? Words fail us. The thoughts and memories of past generations consoles us. It pierces our anguished solitude with rays of light. Those who died in generations past for a common cause have passed on to us an epitaph.

In the eyes of our enemies, we are all soldiers. On September 11 2001, almost 3000 made a sacrifice usually made only the military. May their memory be a blessing. May their suffering not be in vain.



Pearl Harbor Memorial Video


9/11 Memorial Video
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