Marchers protest burned cars in NYC Jewish enclave

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Nov. 14 2011 7:48 a.m. MST

NEW YORK — Peaceful marchers sent a clear message Sunday to vandals who torched cars and scrawled Nazi swastikas in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Brooklyn where Woody Allen was raised: Don't repeat the kind of attacks that once led to the Holocaust.

About 100 Midwood residents joined elected officials for the walk past four public benches from which 16 swastikas had been removed after the pre-dawn attack Friday.

"It was horrible," said Ascher Scheiner, 17, a student at a local yeshiva — a Jewish religious high school. "My friend woke me up and said he heard a loud explosion."

On Ocean Parkway, three parked cars — a BMW, a Lexus and a Jaguar — had been set ablaze. In addition, the letters "KKK" were spray-painted on a van and anti-Semitic messages were scrawled on a sidewalk.

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, a Democrat who represents the area, said authorities told him they believe rags were soaked in gasoline, placed under the cars and lit.

"I've never seen this level of violence here, in my 29 years representing this area," Hikind told The Associated Press. "This goes beyond the pale — blowing up cars in the middle of the Jewish community."

Hikind, who lives in the neighborhood, then rushed off Sunday to see his 90-year-old mother, an Auschwitz survivor. He said he walks past the benches with her on their way to Sabbath services.

"All I could think about was my mother sitting on a bench with a swastika," he said.

Police made no arrests as of Sunday afternoon. The NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said dozens of empty beer bottles were found at the scene. He said they would be tested for fingerprints and DNA samples.

Police in the 66th Precinct bolstered patrols in the neighborhood — especially the scene of the attack.

The marchers carried an Israeli flag and were led by Hikind, state Sen. Eric Adams, Rabbi Chaim Gruber, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel and other community leaders.

"There was a time when vandals used magic markers to express hate; now they're using gasoline," Adams said.

Protesters noted the attack occurred one day after the 73rd anniversary of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany on Nov. 9-10, 1938, when synagogues were set on fire and the windows of Jewish-owned shops were broken.

"I am the child of a Holocaust survivor, and this makes me uncomfortable," said Judy Pfeffer, 62, a retired city education department employee who lives blocks away. "Even then, it was just vandalism. But it led to the Holocaust."

Sunday's march included about 25 people from the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan, which put out a statement condemning the vandalism.

The mix of people who showed up for the march "shows that we stand together against hatred. And it makes residents here feel better," Hikind said.

Midwood — a quiet, middle-class neighborhood about 45 minutes by subway from Manhattan - was predominantly Jewish until new immigrants began arriving in the 1980s from the Caribbean, South America, Eastern Europe and Asia. Allen, the famed filmmaker, grew up in Midwood, as did U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer condemned the vandalism during an unrelated event on Sunday.

"It's disgraceful and they should throw the book at the people who did it," Schumer said. "Sometimes (vandals) think they're pranks, sometimes they're more malicious than that. Either way they cause great harm."

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