Apr 27, 2012
By Joel Moskowitz
Imagine this scenario. A young Orthodox Jewish man from a suburban community much like ours, with a sterling reputation, no criminal record, good academic credentials and considered by others to be a simply nice guy, decides to do his civic duty and join a neighborhood patrol. One day, while on patrol, this young man sees an African American teenager holding “something suspicious” and confronts him. In the end, the teenager is subdued, the suspicious item confiscated and the teen is escorted out of the area. During the altercation, the teen sustains some injuries, which he later reports to the police. Soon after, young man on patrol is arrested and charged with assault.
Improbable? It may sound like it but it’s not. In Maryland the trial of Eliyahu and Avi Werdeshein two brothers aged 24 and 21 respectively, began last week in just such a scenario and unfortunately for them it opens in the shadow of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Their case dates back to November 2010 when the incident took place and from my reading of some of the coverage I am guessing that the victim, who admits to at some point picking up a nail studded stick, is not exactly an honor student. The facts in the case are a little more detailed than the scenario I drew, the victim had a broken wrist and a cut to the back of the head and I don’t know if either of these brothers is a nice guy, good student or has a clean record. Also, the victim’s family declined to speak publicly, to involve any outsiders or declare the incident racial.
What is just outrageous and mind boggling is that this incident, like the Trayvon Martin tragedy, began with racial profiling. Let’s admit it, prejudice and profiling are inherent in our nature. We are cautious of those not like us. If you’ve ever traveled and been in a place where you are different, you feel your otherness, whether in the way locals relate to you or just in a gut feeling that you get being different. This community is not immune to tensions of otherness. All one has to do is follow a typical Five Towns School Board election or a zoning meeting for the construction of a synagogue to know exactly what I am referring to.
As I mentioned in a previous column, the only resolution to this problem must come from the home. Children feel their parents anxiety and take it on as their own. Sometimes the messages conflict, the parents for the most part are liberal minded and accepting of others, but then one of those others wants to buy the house next door or convert that house to a Shul. The kids see the conflicting attitudes and remain conflicted themselves. There is no magic potion to make this go away. While we have progressed on the issue of race we know instinctively it is not enough. We have institutionalized and codified race relations but have failed our own consciences. I cannot say I support a specific plan of action but I know that we can do better. This is America and in America we ask questions first and shoot later.
Filed Under: Joel Moskowitz
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