Monday, December 22, Kislev 30. It was the sixth day of Hanukka, which should have been a cheerful and happy day. In Brooklyn, New York, it was not only a day of gray sky and chilled air but also a mournful, pensive day. Despite the joy of Hanukka and the coming of Christmas and Kwanzaa for others within this part of New York City, the people of Brooklyn were saddened by the violent deaths of two police officers two days earlier.

Saturday, December 20, Kislev 28. Around 3 p.m. two members of the New York Police Department, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, were shot while sitting in their patrol car, which was parked on Tompkins and Myrtle Avenues in Brooklyn. Their car was across the street from the Tompkins Houses, a public housing development. Earlier in the day the gunman had boasted and threatened on social media that he would kill cops. After shooting each officer several times the gunman Ismaaiyl Brinsley, ran to a nearby subway train stop and shot himself dead on the platform.

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The officers were stationed in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in central Brooklyn. The population of “Bed-Stuy” as it is often called has changed over the years. In the early part of the 1900s it was heavily Jewish. You could find many shuls on nearby streets such as DeKalb Avenue, Gates Avenue, Kosciuszko Street, Lewis Avenue. Those shuls closed up when Jews moved away in the post World War Two years and many more African-Americans replaced them. (Most of those shuls were changed into churches.) In recent years the neighborhood has become more diverse: in addition to poor and working-class African-Americans and Latinos, there are yuppie/hipster whites, Asians and African-Americans as well as a growing number of Satmar Hasidic Jews, who have moved south from the Williamsburg neighborhood. The Bed-Stuy area had been quite crime-ridden in the 1970s and 1980s but in recent years crime had fallen. This double murder of police officers was thus a shocking, maddening reminder of the bad old days.


I used to teach at a school just one block away from the murder so I was familiar with the exact spot of this awful crime. A makeshift memorial had been created by many people who brought commemorative offerings. I drove over to see this, pay my respects to the downed men, and feel the tempo of the neighborhood. I stood in front of the burgeoning collection of candles (some lit, some not, most in glass jars), bouquets of flowers, hand-written signs, an American flag attached to the wall, red-white-and-blue ribbons, a blue balloon (for “blue lives”, a reference to the police) and a stuffed teddy bear toy.

I noticed a few young Orthodox Jewish men who stood at the corner, gazing at the collection. Then I noticed that amidst the offerings was a menorah, about three feet high and five feet wide, with glass jars lit for Day Six of Hanukka. Everyone who gathered around was quiet, so I did not ask the Hasidic men about their impressions of this. Were they paying their respects or had they just wandered by? Were they curious about this assemblage or well aware of what happened this past Shabbat? Were they surprised to find a menorah in the memorial setting, or had they actually set it there?

Yes, Hanukka in Brooklyn in 5775, 2014 had a sad overtone. I hope the next Hanukka will be happier.
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