Jewish, black leaders hold closed meeting to improve relations

Meeting is first after alleged assault of black teen by Jewish community patrol group member

December 08, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

After the alleged assault of a black teenager by a member of the Shomrim neighborhood patrol group, black and Jewish community leaders met at a closed meeting to facilitate relations between the groups.

Four of the leaders spoke briefly to the media after emerging from the close to 90 minute meeting, saying they had not decided whether to call for the Shomrim to disband, but that they plan to continue dialogue between the communities.

Wednesday's gathering prompted "much discussion, sometimes heated discussion," Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

Abramson said after the Shomrim incident is fully reviewed, the next step will be to evaluate how the Park Heights community responds. The leaders at the meeting would then decide whether to call for the group's suspension or revisions in its training.

Alvin Gwynn Sr., president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, said "much more information has to be gathered," but added that the group might call for an end to the Shomrim patrol.

Members of the Shomrim were not invited because the meeting was to discuss relations between the black and Jewish communities, not the patrol group, Abramson said.

According to court records, on Nov.19, Eliezer Werdesheim approached the teen during school hours because he was acting suspiciously, and told him, "You don't belong around here." The two engaged in a scuffle that left the teen injured, court records say. Another member of the Shomrim group helped the teen and called police. Werdesheim has been suspended from the group.

While leaders talked inside the community center in Park Heights, about a dozen other people were denied entry and braved the 30-degree temperatures to express their concerns to each other and in front of TV news cameras.

Chris Blake, who lives in Irvington, said he was "extremely disappointed" that the meeting was closed. "You can't claim to represent the community if you are excluding information from members of the community," he said.

Blake said the meeting organizers focused on exploiting the Shomrim incident instead of than solving tensions, while at the same time failing to pay attention when violence happens elsewhere in the city.

Abramson told reporters later, however, that the meeting was closed to keep the meeting moving and more "productive." He said there may be open meetings in the future.

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