AUSTRALIAN Norman Rosenbaum flew to New York to commemorate a sombre anniversary last week, 25 years since the murder of his younger brother Yankel in the Crown Heights riots of 1991.
“The enormity of his loss is not something that’s diminished over time, quite the opposite. From a family point of view, his friends, his professional colleagues, he had so much to offer and he was cut down before the prime of his life,” Rosenbaum reflected to The AJN.
Yankel, 29, a Melbourne graduate student completing Chassidic studies in New York, was attacked by a mob in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Crown Heights on August 19, 1991, his assailants shouting “kill the Jew”, as he was fatally stabbed.
The attack occurred during three days of riots which broke out after a vehicle in the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe was forced to swerve to avoid a collision with another car, and accidentally ran down and killed a Guyanese-American child, Gavin Cato, 7.
In the following years, Rosenbaum, a Melbourne lawyer, made frequent visits to New York to campaign for justice for his brother.
One of the attackers, Lemrick Nelson, Jr, was tried for Yankel’s murder and acquitted in 1992.
Nelson, who was identified by Yankel as his main attacker, later confessed to his predominant role in the stabbing and in a separate trial was found guilty of violating the Chassidic scholar’s civil rights in 2003 and jailed. He has since been released.
But Rosenbaum lamented that “only two of the 30 in the mob who attacked Yankel have been brought to justice”.
The Rosenbaum family also reached a $US1.25 million ($A1.6 million) malpractice settlement with the hospital where Yankel died, as doctors had failed to notice one of his four stab wounds for about an hour after he was admitted.
Rosenbaum rejected “simplistic” theories that such an attack was less likely today because accurate information on social media could calm tempers, saying today’s technology could actually “whip up a frenzy” far more quickly than even the chain-phone calls among African-Americans that fanned the riots of a quarter century ago.
He described it as “an indictment” that Reverend Al Sharpton, a popular black preacher who addressed crowds after the car accident, and is widely linked to exacerbating tempers on the street, remains a respected figure in America today.
Apart from observing Yankel’s yahrzeit, a commemoration service was held on the secular anniversary at the scene of the attack.
Rosenbaum also met with Carmel Cato, father of Gavin, with whom he has shared a bond in grief since they were first introduced 15 years ago. Said Rosenbaum: “On the anniversary of Gavin’s passing and Yankel’s murder, we try to get together.”