Broken Windows

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Yesterday afternoon, I was riding back into town after running an errand in New Brunswick. I had my laptop and a folder of freshly-printed CD covers in my backpack. I pulled over to the side of road not once but several times, to look at the facades of the stores and restaurants I’d read about. The ones I’d heard had their windows broken by a dangerous idiot throwing pieces of concrete at Jewish-owned stores. Chunks of sidewalk may have been used; they’ve been repaving the walkways downtown for the last few weeks.

I heard that some kind of directory of area Jewish businesses was recently released, and that it must be what the vandals used to target these places; but it’s not hard to tell if an observent Jew owns a business.

The shop name may have “Jerusalem” in it, or there’s a piece of paper in the window telling prospective diners about which rabbi certifies the food as kosher. Perhaps they close early on Friday and stay closed on Saturday? Hebrew in the logo? A small store or deli owned by Jews is pretty easy to pick out.

Many of these obviously Jewish businesses in Highland Park—Jerusalem Pizza, Park Place—are places I’ve been going to for years. Jack’s Hardware is in same storefront as the now-closed Chapter One, a cafe where I met my wife in 1998 when she came to see my band play. Some had windows broken, some had fixed them. Straddling my bike, shining my helmet light at the windows to look for the damage, I thought about a similar day in 1989 when I was a student at Rutgers.

I had walked to my car in the dark, from my dorm room, parked with a dozen other vehicles in Buccleuch Park—one of the few places near the College Avenue campus where students could park. After I sat down, I noticed light glinting off a piece of broken glass. It was sitting among other pieces of broken, rounded safety glass on the dashboard.

My right-side windows had been smashed in, and when I realized this I got up to look at the damage outside. An entire row of cars had their windows broken, a row of tightly-parked cars along a stretch of path. I later found out that this had happened on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, when Jewish homes and businesses had been looted, vandalized, and destroyed. The broken shop windows in Highland Park are already being referred to as our own Kristallnacht, which severely minimizes what actually happened on that night in Germany in 1938.

Broken shop display windows are more of a hit to the community than a line of autos needing a trip to the auto body shop, and our community is very different from the city across the river. Highland Park is a small community of about 14,000 people, supporting several businesses that wouldn’t stay in business without a sizable Jewish population. The City of New Brunswick–where Chabad House and Rutgers Hillel have also had their windows broken–is a college town with about 55,000 people. People here talk to each other more. I know many of the people I see walking downtown–and most of the rest at least look passingly familiar.

But, tonight, Highland Park was subtly quieter, despite no reduction in auto or foot traffic. The coffeeshop I was in was far more crowded than I expected for a Wednesday night; I had trouble finding a table for my laptop and me to sit and eat. Perhaps people needed to get out, to see other people?

The incidents are under investigation, and a suspect has been arrested, but I’m unsettled. A friend invited me to Friday night dinner in south Jersey, someone I almost never see, but I declined. I want to go to services this week, I want to talk to people, to be there for the community–and let it be there for me.

Maybe in the wee hours of the morning, when I’m not quite tired enough to go to bed, I will wonder: Will this will be the time that people start hanging the Jews from lampposts? I’ll probably smile, shake my head, and tell myself not to be silly.

Perhaps things will feel more normal when they’re done repaving all those sidewalks.


Julie Goldberg edited this essay, and made it much better. Please pay her a visit at her amazing blog Perfect Whole.

Photo by Neil Fein, via Flickr

Neil Fein is a freelance editor. On the side, he’s the guitarist in the band Baroque & Hungry, he rides a mean bicycle, and he paints with oils when the mood strikes him.

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2 thoughts on “Broken Windows

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  1. What happened was awful, and the criminal was probably being deliberate targeting Jewish businesses. However, I doubt it was the beginning of a sinister conspiracy. The country right now is getting into a lather where the have-nots are trying to spot the haves. Jews always have money, right? We can think of Shylock and Fagin and all kinds of stereotypes that have been fed to the consciousness of Western civilization since who knows when.

    This is a random act of frustration made easy by the fact glass breaks so easily and Jews make easily identifiable targets. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t hear it as it was happening. Just be vigilant. Unless new evidence surfaces, it’s over.

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