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A suspected hate crime by an African American against an Orthodox Jew in the diverse city of Lakewood, New Jersey, caught by surprise the head of the local branch of the NAACP, who, ironically, is in Israel on a mission for American civic leaders.
Police have not arrested a suspect nearly a week after a man wielding an aluminum baseball bat attacked an Orthodox Jewish rabbi walking to synagogue last Tuesday, critically injuring the 53-year-old man.
Warren Sherard, president of the Ocean County-Lakewood branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was in Jerusalem at the time of the attack, attending the week-long Institute for Civic Leaders hosted by the United Jewish Communities/Jewish Council for Public Affairs Israel Advocacy Initiative. The attack happened hours ahead of Sherard's visit to Yad Vashem.
"Wherever you hear news like that it's horrible," Sherard said. "But to be in Israel and hear about such a terrible crime against a Jew in my own home town is stunning." Sherard was immediately informed about the attack and has been kept informed about the investigation into the attack and the community's response to it. He said he was anxious to get back home to deal with the situation.
"They haven't apprehended a suspect yet, but it doesn't look like robbery was a motive - so that leads to suspicion it may be a hate crime," Sherard said. "There is a problem with hate crimes all over the world. Unfortunately, in this day and age, there are still people who commit crimes out of hatred and bigotry."
Sherard co-chairs - along with an Orthodox rabbi - Lakewood's Community Response Team, which formed in response to an incident between an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and a 15-year-old African American. Facilitated by the US Justice Department's community relations division, the team manages community responses to such incidents and promotes harmony between the races in Lakewood.
Moskowitz's beating has exacerbated already tense ethnic relations in Lakewood, a city of 70,000 near the Jersey Shore that is home to a large Orthodox Jewish population, as well as black and Hispanic communities.
An Orthodox Jewish middle school teacher was found not guilty this summer of assaulting a black teenager. And a few weeks ago, a group of Orthodox Jews was pelted with eggs by teenagers from another town, The New York Times reported Thursday.
"There's a very, very strong feeling of revulsion and horror that this attack happened here," said Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, who belongs to the council of local Jewish leaders called the Vaad and is Sherard's counterpart on the response team.
Witnesses told police they saw a black man walk by Moskowitz, and without saying a word turn on the rabbi, beating him in the head and body with a baseball bat. Moskowitz remained in critical condition Thursday, his face disfigured.
Lakewood has seen large growth in its Orthodox Jewish and Hispanic communities, while the black population has shrunk, officials said.
"We have a very large population of Orthodox Jewish residents. And we get our share of spray painting, people riding down the road yelling epithets - all kinds of different things like that," said Lt. Joseph Isnardi of the Lakewood police.
Some Jewish residents said Thursday they feared the latest attack would exacerbate long-standing tensions between ethnic groups in the town.
Abraham Sasson, 15, was with a friend who quickly published a flier critical of the police department's handling of safety. Sasson recounted how a woman at an area store had asked him the night before to walk her to her car only 100 or so feet from the store.
"She was very scared to walk out by herself. That's part of the reaction of the township against the horrifying attack that took place two days ago," Sasson said.
As he pushed a stroller with his son down the street, 25-year-old Alexander Spira said residents were horrified. But he also noted there were places in the world that are less safe.
"People are going to Israel, where people are blowing up buses," Spira said.