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Hasidic Jews Fight Back in Brooklyn

May 26, 1964 - The Hasidic Jews of Brooklyn, an ultra-Orthodox sect, turning to the tradition of the ancient Maccabees, have decided to fight their attackers.

“The Maccabees of the Community,” a group of about 120 volunteers, is patrolling the Crown Heights section in radio-equipped cars in an effort to protect members of the community.

Religious and community leaders decided to organize the patrols after a number of men and women were beaten and mugged. Recently, Jewish children at a yeshiva near Crown Heights were attacked by a large group of Negroes who yelled anti-Semitic slurs.

Although the Hasidic leaders are reluctant to identify their tormentors as Negroes, they say that most attacks are made by residents of the adjacent Bedford-Stuyvesant section, which is now predominantly Negro.

Rabbi Samuel Schrage (center), administrator of the yeshiva where the children were assaulted, said today that the radio patrol cars were being used primarily to prevent trouble.

Each of four cars, he explained, is manned by six young men, all over 21. They are not armed, but are “all strong,” he said.

“In case of trouble,” the Rabbi said, “our people try to overwhelm the attackers by sheer weight of numbers. If it is beyond their capacity, they call us on the radio, and we call the police.”

“We are fighting crime and criminals without distinction as to color or creed,” he continued. “We are trying to protect ourselves because there is not adequate police protection. In Europe, Jews used to set up their own police force for self-protection. Well, we want our protection here. We are not violent. We are very peaceful. But once they step on our feet, we have to react.”

The headquarters of the patrol force is a drab storefront at 459 Albany Ave. Inside, it resembles a military command post, with a desk, a few chairs, and a large map of Crown Heights on a wall. Volunteers answer the telephone while a reserve patrol car crew stands by.

The cars operate from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. They make regular radio reports to headquarters on street conditions.

Non-Jewish volunteers — 12 whites and eight Negroes at present — have volunteered to man the cars on Friday nights, the Jewish Sabbath.

The telephone number of the headquarters (SL 6-5100) is being circulated through the community so Jewish residents who plan to be out at night can call for protection.

Rabbi Schrage said the community had been virtually housebound by fear since a rabbi’s wife had been dragged from her apartment at knifepoint. The attack occurred two weeks ago.

The women fought the man when he tried to rape her. She was slashed on the hand but fought him off. She was in the hospital for a week for treatment of cuts and shock.

Rabbi Schrage said there were 500,000 persons in the Crown Heights area, 75% of them Jews.

Appeals to the police about conditions in the area, the rabbi said, have led to conferences and the assignment of an extra police squad. However, the Hasidic leaders feel the extra protection is not enough.

“The police know what we are doing,” Rabbi Schrage said. “We didn’t ask them if we could do it because we didn’t expect them to sanction it.”

Deputy Police Commissioner Walter Arm said the setup did not have the department’s blessing but that there was nothing illegal about a group of citizens organizing for self-protection.

“We don’t believe in the vigilante system in any society,” he said. “That’s what we have police for. We’re aware of the situation, and we’re trying to do the best we can.”

Today, Captain William Anderson and Sergeant Raymond Smith visited the headquarters to ask if they could help in any way. Rabbi Schrage assured the police officers he would call them if they were needed.

The community force takes its name from the Maccabees, a Jewish family that led a fight for religious freedom when the King of Syria attempted to force Hellenism upon Judea in the second century B.C.

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