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  • Eve Shusterman

Fires in the Mirror

Over the past month, Ms. Kramer’s 9th grade English classes read Fires in the Mirror by Anna Deavere Smith. For me, someone who has spent the first 14 years of her life in the sheltered Great Neck yeshiva bubble, it was eye-opening to say the least.

Before the Fires in the Mirror unit, I knew nothing about the Crown Heights riots. I really had no idea that such a big division existed between the Jewish and African American communities. I was shocked to learn that these two groups, who had each been victims of horrible discrimination throughout history, were fighting against each other. Whether it be The Holocaust for the Jews or years of slavery for African Americans, both communities know how it feels to go through tremendous suffering. Every Jew and every African American knows how it feels to be treated differently for a reason they can not control. It confuses me and upsets me to see these two groups fighting when they share so much common ground.

In August 1991, Crown Heights, Brooklyn, a vehicle that was part of a three-car motorcade carrying the Lubavitcher Rebbe, accidentally struck and killed a young African American boy named Gavin Cato. When the Hatzolah ambulance came to the scene and rushed to help the Jewish driver instead of the child on the ground, tensions between the Jewish and African American communities escalated greatly. There were horrifying riots between the Chasidic Jews and the African American community of Crown Heights. The riots lead to the murder of Yankel Rosenbaum, a Jew who was stabbed to death simply because he was Jewish.

This unit has given me the opportunity to realize how important it is to learn history and learn where your people come from. Those who fail to learn their history are doomed to repeat it and all the mistakes that it comes with. When we take the time to learn about the acts of hate, like racism and antisemitism, that have shaped our past, we become more educated and prepared to face it for the future. By being open to learn and understand each other, the Jewish and African American communities can come together to fight anti-Semitism and racism.

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