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Jewish Journal

Jewish Worshippers and Irish Police Clash in NY (In 1897)

by Julie Gruenbaum Fax

March 31, 2009 | 4:47 pm

On Passover eve this Wednesday, along with burning scraps of bread and grating horseradish, observant Jews will engage in an even more obscure ritual: blessing the sun as it slides into precisely its position the moment it was created, according to the Talmud. It’s a once-in-28 years occurrence, and the chance to do such a rare mitzvah has spawned some creative programs around L.A. click here

Apparently, it was exciting to Jews in New York in 1897, too, but things didn’t go that well. A New York Times article from April 8, 1897 describes a melee that ensued when “Hebrews gathered by the hundreds” in Tompkins Square with no permit, to the dismay of an Irish policeman.

From the New York Times (click here for the full article):

By 8 o’clock the square and the sidewalks around it were crowded. Rabbi Wechsler arrived about that time, and was astonished to see Rabbi Klein running away at full speed. This last phenomenon was explained a moment later by the appearance of Park Policeman Foley, puzzled and excited.

The celebration is rather a complicated matter to explain to anybody. Rabbi Klein’s knowledge of English is slight, while Foley’s faculties of comprehension of matters outside of police and park regulations and local events are not acute. The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an American Irishman an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure.

Both became excited, and the people who clustered around them increased the confusion. When Foley was told in broken English about a “new sun,” he was doubtful whether it was an attempt to guy him, or whether some new infection of lunacy had broken out on the east side. His demonstrations became so threatening that Rabbi Klein understood that he was in danger of being arrested and clubbed, and chose the easiest and fastest plan of escape.

Rabbi Wechsler’s English is better than Rabbi Klein’s, but he could not convey the significance and purpose of the assemblage to Foley. The one fact which that official’s perceptions grasped was that there was no permit.

After some parley, he seized the rabbi by the neck and took him to Essex Market Police court. After being kept among the prisoners in the police court for nearly an hour, the rabbi was arraigned before Magistrate Cornell, who dismissed him because he had evidently not intended to do wrong, admonishing him, however, not to make trouble for Foley.

The people who were left in the square conducted their simple service of prayer without a rabbi. Similar services were held in other parts of the city. One or two east side congregations gathered on the East River water front and were not disturbed.

Rabbi Wechsler was good natured in his comments on the affair when seen by a reporter for THE NEW YORK TIMES last night.
He said he felt no resentment against the policeman, who probably knew no better.

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