A festive celebration in New York’s haredi-dominated Borough Park community turned ugly after police ordered the unauthorized gathering to disperse.
On Sunday, a festive event was held to celebrate entering a new Torah scroll into the Dzebo Bais Hamedrash on 51nd Street between 15th and 16th Avenues. Called a ‘Hachnasat Sefer Torah’, the event involved thousands of Jews singing and dancing as they escort the new scroll into the sanctuary.
However, the event organizers had not received police approval for the large-scale event. Things turned ugly after law enforcement ordered the marchers to disperse for blocking traffic, deteriorating into a small riot.
As officers attempted to clear the street, they approached and commanded individual participants, who didn’t immediately respond to their instruction, according to the Matzav web site. Officers claim that they were obligated to ensure that the street remained opened and passable.
Joel Herskovitz, the man who was cuffed during the procession, spoke to the NY Post by phone on Monday and said that the police response “was definitely overkill”.
“They shouldn’t have done anything,” he said. “I was just walking peacefully with the crowd. [A cop] just pushed me from behind. I just turned around and said, ‘Don’t push me,’ and just walked on. “They came to ruin a peaceful celebration.”
The site reported that officers made physical contact with pedestrians who they claim did not adhere to their verbal admonitions to stay out of the street. All the people that were involved were male onlookers. There was one female officer at the scene who attempted to handcuff the man that was eventually detained.
Nearby pedestrians yelled that the officer had instigated the altercation and that the man should be released, as was reported by Matzav. As events ensued, tens of people took out their cell phones and videotaped the melee, with some charging that they would use the video against the police as evidence of brutality.
The Matzav website reported that police traded fisticuffs with a hassidic man who was summarily arrested. Hundreds of yeshiva students later protested outside the 66th Precinct on 16th Avenue and 59th Street where he was being held, with officers being called a “Nazi” by the crowd.
In order to manage the chaos, police were forced to call in reinforcements as some Boro Park residents grew increasingly unruly.
Jewish community leaders pleaded for calm after the violence. “I’m concerned about the arrest of one of our citizens, but let’s not jump to conclusions just yet, I’m urging everyone to exercise restraint, we will get to the bottom of what happened,” tweeted New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
The Matzav site was told that an investigation into the incident is underway. Detectives will be examining footage from the incident to determine if the officers involved acted correctly. Charges against the individual who was arrested have not yet been announced.
“We’re just shocked by the chaos,” said one Chassidic woman. “Everyone knows that our community and the NYPD have a remarkable relationship. To see conflict like this was just so out of the ordinary and simply astounding. We respect the police greatly, but we also hope that proper measures were taken and that no one was treated unfairly. Time will tell.”