Black-faced Purim effigy in NY county draws condemnation

Local Jewish Federation, board of rabbis issue joint statement decrying offensive ‘hanging of Haman’ practice

A Purim effigy that appeared to be of an African-American man drew widespread condemnation in Spring Valley, New York, March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: News 12)
A Purim effigy that appeared to be of an African-American man drew widespread condemnation in Spring Valley, New York, March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: News 12)

NEW YORK — Several leaders in the Jewish community of New York’s Rockland County are distancing themselves from a local Purim celebration that included hanging a black-faced doll with dreadlocks outside a haredi Orthodox home.

The effigy, which according to a News12 Hudson Valley report Thursday evening was spotted outside a Spring Valley home, angered many African Americans and others in the area for its reminder of the frequent lynchings — extrajudicial hangings, often by a mob of whites — that terrorized black men prior to the civil rights movement.

Barry Kanarek, the director of the Jewish Federation of Rockland, told News 12 Thursday that the effigy was a means of celebrating “the defeating the evil Haman who wanted to kill all the Jews.”

On Friday morning, the federation and the Rockland County Board of Rabbis, a group made up solely of non-Orthodox rabbis, issued a joint statement condemning the “insensitive and offensive ‘hanging of Haman’ practice on display during Purim.”

“There is no requirement in Jewish law for this activity,” the statement continues. “We fully recognize, as do the overwhelming majority of the members of the Jewish community, the powerful and hate-filled memories that such images evoke in modern America. We call on all members of the Jewish and broader Rockland community to behave in accordance with the golden rule, “Do not do to others what is hateful to you.” It is only from this principle that a society that respects differences and celebrates diversity can be built…”

Rabbi Yakov Horowitz of Monsey, posted a separate condemnation on his Facebook page, linking to it from the comments section on the News12 site and urging people to “like/share” it as a sign of support.

Horowitz’s statement, which has been shared dozens of times, describes the effigy as “gruesome” and offers his “sincere apology to my African-American neighbors who were understandably hurt/offended by it.”

I condemn in the strongest language the gruesome image portrayed in this News12 story, and offer my sincere apology to…

Posted by Yakov Horowitz on Friday, March 25, 2016

According to his website, Horowitz has studied and taught at numerous Haredi yeshivas. He is founder of Yeshiva Darchei Noam in Monsey and founder/director of Project Y.E.S., which provides mentoring and other services for “at-risk teens.”

Home to a growing population of ultra-Orthodox Jews, many of them Hasidic, Rockland County has been the site of numerous conflicts between the Haredi community and others. An issue spurring particular tension has been the East Ramapo Central School District, where the elected school board is majority Haredi and has been accused of illegally siphoning funds from the public schools to enrich the yeshivas. Last week, the FBI raided several yeshivas and companies in Rockland County as part of an ongoing fraud investigation.

Wilbur Aldridge, regional director of the NAACP, told News 12 this was the second consecutive year a black-faced doll was displayed for Purim: “I’m sure they can find some other way of depicting their disdain for this particular king,” he said.

In the comments to the News12 article, several viewers expressed outrage.

Tammy Kay Kuiper of Piermont wrote: “Please don’t say this represents an ancient king … there were no jeans, t-shirts or hoodies during king Haman’s time. I also seriously doubt he wore dreadlocks … If someone hung a dummy dressed as a Hasidim [sic] out their window on Purim or Halloween or any other ‘occasion’ the Hasidim would be relentlessly all over them, accepting no excuses, demanding arrest and filing law suits…”

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