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Blacks and Jews

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Trees and tolerance are flourishing along Eastern Parkway - once a barren boundary between the blacks and Jews of Crown Heights.

When the community erupted in riots seven years ago, Eastern Parkway was the line in the sand between Orthodox Jews who lived in detached houses to the south and blacks in turn-of-the-century row houses to the north.

But today, the newly beautified parkway is a symbol of recovering race relations citywide.

Crown Heights Community Board Chairman Robert Matthews hears new evidence of this recovery daily in the "good mornings" exchanged by area residents as they pass peaceably beneath the newly planted trees on the parkway promenade.

"I think on the whole, race relations in the city have improved - and I see it here in an increased dialogue between the residents," Matthews said.

"There is a "Good morning,' a "How are you?' or a "Good afternoon.' This kind of thing - it means so much."

Such greetings were rare in the early '90s, when there was what Matthews calls "a class thing here." Hostile stares were the norm.

"The black families thought the Jewish families thought they were better than everybody else," he said. "Once we were able to find out we were all people - with the same needs and causes - things began to defrost."

In 1991, Crown Heights was a frightening place. Already wracked by crime and crack use, it erupted in four days of rioting after a young black kid, Gavin Cato, was killed by a car in the entourage of Lubavitch leader Rebbe Menachem Schneerson.

A mob of black men, looking for a Jewish target for their rage, chased after Yankel Rosenbaum, a young Jewish scholar from Australia, and stabbed him to death.

In the years since, creative leadership by local leaders and police has brought understanding, acceptance and peace to the community.

The crack epidemic diminished in the early '90s, and in the past few years, crime began dropping precipitously.

One benefit of the 15 percent drop in Crown Heights crime this year - a drop greater than in nearly any other city neighborhood - is that residents are



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