Teen's Beating Roils Black, Jewish Relations
Date: Wednesday, December 08, 2010, 5:33 am
By: Sean Yoes, Special to

The beating of a black teen in Baltimore by a member of a Jewish neighborhood patrol group has once again heightened racial tensions between the black and Jewish communities, and the incident has lead to calls by some of the city’s black leaders for the group’s disbandment.

Eliyahu Eliezer Werdesheim, 23, a volunteer with the mostly-Jewish patrol group Shomrim, was arrested and charged with first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and false imprisonment in connection with the beating of the 15-year old – who has not been identified – who suffered lacerations to his head and a broken wrist, according to court records.

According to a police report, the teen was walking through a largely Jewish Northwest Baltimore neighborhood on Friday, Nov. 19 when a car pulled alongside of him at around 12:45 p.m. The report indicates the boy asked why he was being followed, and the driver of the vehicle - allegedly Werdersheim - replied, “You’re the guy from yesterday on Park Heights ... you want some problems?”

The teen, who attends Northwestern High School in the same neighborhood, alleges he picked up a stick to defend himself, but dropped it when the two men approached. Then the two Shomrim members allegedly threw the youth to the ground, and one held him down while Werdesheim struck him in the head with a radio.

“You don’t f---ing belong here. Get out of here,” Werdersheim allegedly told the black teen before the two men fled.

According to police, another member of the patrol group provided medical assistance to the youth and identified the vehicle Werdersheim was driving.

Werdersheim, who, according to The Baltimore Sun, was formally an Israeli Special Forces soldier, asserts the youth wielded a two by four with nails in it and was only acting in self-defense. Werdersheim has been suspended by Shomrin in the wake of the incident.

However, several of the city’s black leaders believe the suspension of one member of the organization does not go far enough in resolving the incident and allaying the underlying hostilities connected to historic mistrust and intolerance between blacks and Jews in Baltimore.

“This situation has the potential to heighten and further those tensions if some real, constructive engagement is not taken upon,” said Pastor Heber Brown III of Pleasant Hope Baptist Church during an interview with NBC affiliate WBAL-TV. Brown is also vice-president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, a long-standing coalition of activist clergy from the Baltimore-Metropolitan area.

“The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance condemns the attack of the 15-year-old youth by a group of Jewish men on Nov. 19th in the Upper Park Heights Community,” the group said in a recent statement. “Wanton violence is unacceptable, and we welcome the opportunity to meet with youth and all concerned community groups. We will not stand by and allow our children to be victimized by over-zealous violent fringe groups such as Shomrim.”

Others believe Shomrim, which was started in late 2005 after a string of burglaries in upper Park Heights, has, for the most part, been well received by both blacks and Jews for its efforts in keeping the community safe. However, even some Jewish leaders are concerned about the racial implications connected to the alleged attack.

“What concerns me is this person possibly was attacked because he was perceived as not belonging in the community because of the color of his skin,” said Art Abramson, executive
director of the Baltimore Jewish Council. “That concerns me. I’m not saying that happened, but certainly there are accusations out there.”

Black and Jewish leaders in Baltimore plan to sit down Wednesday in an effort to establish a more viable dialogue between the two communities, but some leaders allude to violent confrontations connected to past conflicts between blacks and Jews in other urban areas.

“At this point, without having an opportunity to dialogue, the African-American community has absolutely no confidence in the Shomrim and is quite frankly concerned about the safety of our students at the neighboring predominantly Black Northwestern High School,” Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the African-American Democratic Club of Baltimore City wrote in an email to Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake.

“So as to prevent the heightened racial tensions that transpired in Crown Heights, New York in 1991 and in 1996 resulting in riots, I am requesting that you take a firm and sturdy position to prove to your constituents that you oppose excessive force.”

Mark Madoff, the eldest son of disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, has been found hanged in his downtown Manhattan apartment on the second anniversary of the day his father turned himself in to authorities.

His death, which was reported to the police by his father-in-law at 7.30am today, came days after he was named in a new lawsuit by the liquidators of his father's empire.