A Long Island Rabbi compares recent riots in LA to Kristallnacht. It’s a false equivalency.
An email is making the rounds of my community in Palm Beach County. You might have seen it. The subject line of the email is, “An important read before Yom Kippur.” The title of the essay attached to the email is, KRISTALLNACHT 2020 – DOES ANYONE CARE? written by Rabbi Yakov Saacks, of The Chai Center, Dix Hills, NY.
Here’s Rabbi Saacks’s essay:
Rabbi Saacks introduces his piece with this: “The following is true, yet really unbelievable.”
The Rabbi’s intro is really telling – but, how true and how believable is it?
With that in mind, I think it’s important to set the record straight about what happened in Los Angeles in May and how it matches up with Rabbi Saacks’ commentary.
The riots on the night of May 30 (not May 20 as the Rabbi wrote) were indeed centered in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles.
But first, some background about Fairfax from a Los Angeles Times article in 2016.
“The smells of hamantaschen and challah in the bakeries no longer mingle with the sounds of Yiddish and melodies of Jewish music. Gone are the days when Fairfax Avenue would shut down for high holidays.
“’It’s not what it used to be,’ said David Kagan, owner of Western Kosher. ‘I don’t think Fairfax would be considered a Jewish street anymore.’”
On May 30, thousands gathered at Pan Pacific Park in the Fairfax district to peacefully mourn the death of George Floyd and others in a protest against racism. The protest was meant to be a call for change to systemic racism and its historical unjust treatment of the Black community.
Pan Pacific Park is described by a resident of the Fairfax district who attended the rally as being “located in a family-friendly area of Los Angeles, filled with local shops and across the street from Park La Brea known for being home to Angeleno newbies. Right next door to the park is The Grove, an outdoor mall that is adjacent the iconic Original Farmers Market, an L.A. institution that attracts locals and tourists alike.
As we know, and as has been reported in both local and national media, this peaceful demonstration turned into a riot, with looters running rampant, businesses looted and stores, cars and other property destroyed.
Unfortunately, in the fraught times in which we live, this morphing of peaceful protesting into horrific rioting is not unique, and certainly not unique to Los Angeles.
When I received Rabbi Saacks’ essay however, I thought something was a bit off.
Was, as the Rabbi writes, the looting and destruction in this area because it was “heavily Jewish” and rioting here was a way, in the guise of a BLM protest, to get to the real goal: desecration and destruction of Jewish houses of worship and businesses? Or, did the legal demonstration begin in Fairfax because of the convenient location of Pan Pacific Park, a place other organizations have used to gather for peaceful demonstrations?
To try to get to the answer, I researched the local news coverage of the protest and subsequent riots.
In a review of coverage from the CBS and ABC LA affiliated TV stations, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio’s website, there was no mention of any specific targeting of Jewish businesses and synagogues.
There were pictures of Congregation Beth Israel graffitied with pro-Palestinian anti-Semitic statements. And during the riots, shouts of “F*** Israel” were reported. There were also pictures hundreds of businesses looted and property destroyed. And I’m sure Jewish-owned business were among those in the pictures. But there was no evidence, except for unconscionable graffiti on the synagogue, that this was a protest against Jews and Jewish things. It was not, as the Rabbi claims, KRISTALLNACHT 2020; Kristallnacht was a Nazi-led, nation-wide, organized pogrom specifically targeting Jews. It was not the unintended outcome of peaceful demonstrations.
To be clear:
- Virtually all business in the district were destroyed and looted; Jewish businesses were not singled out as in Kristallnacht.
- The riots were not limited to the Fairfax district; there was looting and destruction in other parts of the city, including “tony” Rodeo Drive, and at a Nordstrom.
- Curfews were imposed in the entire Mid-Wilshire district and in much of West LA, not because they were “Jewish” neighborhoods in possible peril from rioters, but because they were neighborhoods in possible peril from rioters.
And, although I hate to say it, as in other peaceful demonstrations that turned into riots, police actions that day might not have been helpful, as eye-witnesses reported “We heard screams from the back of the crowd. We realized it was because the police were shoving and arresting people further down the street because we had all stopped marching.” And, “I firmly believe LAPD came in with the intent to be aggressive. They were never going to try and de-escalate the situation. They wanted to scare us and hurt us.”
What happened during those riots was horrific and uncalled for. The murder of George Floyd and other Black men is an abomination (as is the current situation in Louisville with the Breonna Taylor Grand Jury). Protesting and demonstrating against that kind of injustice is our right as Americans. Riots and mob violence are not justified; I believe they they are a combination of pent-up frustration and thuggish opportunism. But they are not our right, and the perpetrators should be punished accordingly. The rioting and destruction in LA, as an outcome of a lawful BLM movement demonstration, was reprehensible.
But to call it “KRISTALLNACHT 2020” is pandering and over the top.
Shabbat Shalom. L’shanah Tovah and G’mar chatima tova. May this be a sweet and healthy New Year to you and yours.