Good deed on a mean, bloody street Rabbi praised for rescuing woman

August 13, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- A Hasidic rabbi rescued a black woman bleeding from gunshot wounds on a street in Crown Heights, put her in the back seat of his car and drove her to a hospital, the police and doctors said.

The rabbi, Israel Shemtov, said he heard the gunshots, then saw the woman crawling on the sidewalk yesterday morning. She was bleeding from at least seven bullet wounds and whimpering in pain and fear. A man was later found shot dead inside a nearby building.

With the help of another man, Mr. Shemtov lifted the woman into the back seat and sped to the emergency room at Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center. The woman underwent three operations and was in critical condition yesterday, from what doctors said was seven to nine gun blasts, including one wound in the jaw. Doctors said her condition appeared to have stabilized.

Perhaps in another neighborhood or another city, the rabbi's act would have been seen as nothing more than a good deed.

But the wounded woman, Tina Haynes, 32, was black and the sidewalk where she lay bleeding was in Crown Heights, virtually at the epicenter of a racial disturbance almost exactly two years ago.

The rabbi who saved her life, it turned out, has been arrested four times during neighborhood confrontations.

The episode touched on sensitive nerves for a community worn from animosities between blacks and Hasidim, and some were eager to grasp at what they saw as a building block to harmony. Yesterday, blacks and Jews joined in a news conference at the medical center to praise Mr. Shemtov's intervention.

Just one block from where the rabbi picked up the wounded woman is the corner where Gavin Cato, a 7-year-old black boy, died when a car driven by a Hasidic man mounted the curb Aug. 19, 1991. That accident set off the four-day Crown Heights disturbances.

"The rabbi is proof," said the wounded woman's mother, Dorothy Haynes-Martin, "that you can't judge all people and that you can't solve all problems by talking about it. He proved that actions really do speak louder than words."

The police said yesterday that they had not arrested anyone in the shooting and said they had no idea why someone would try to kill Ms. Haynes.

Mr. Shemtov, appearing at a news conference yesterday at the medical center where he had brought Ms. Haynes, said that as a member of a Crown Heights citizens' patrol he had acted instinctively with only a passing apprehension that a gunman might be lurking nearby.

"I've been called a racist, a vigilante, a hero," he said. "It all depends on who's looking. Color, race, religion have no bearing on helping a human being."

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