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Coney Island Rabbi Fixes an Interesting Part of the World

How is it possible that the people who might be killing each other back in their homelands can get along so well in Brooklyn? One person whom producer Larry Clamage encountered on Coney Island Avenue doesn’t claim to know the whole answer but is happy to tell us how he tries to be part of it.

TV report transcript


"My name is Rabbi Bob Kaplan. And, I live exactly one block off of Coney Island Ave. I'm the director of the New York Center for Community Coalition Building. It's a division of the Jewish Community Relations Counsel of New York. Where's my synagogue?"

(Hebrew chanting)


"I go to one on Shabbat and other times as well. But I've made a conscious decision not to have a physical pulpit in a building. I'm sort of a street rabbi.

I'm a part of that process of what we call in Judaism, 'Tikun Olam,' which means, fixing the world. But fixing the world, that's a big job and I'm not up to that. So the way I look at it is that God gives me little pieces to fix.

With the diversity that makes up New York City, I'm always out there. Literally, morning to night, I'm out in the car going from community to community. Some days I could be in all five boroughs and then other kinds of places as well.

What happened is that there was some guy who said that rocks where thrown at him Saturday night. I was investigating it as a hate crime.

After 9-11, everybody understood there was the anti-Osama feeling. Certainly that was justified.


“There are people who are coming forth and beginning to say I'm angry."


"Anyone with a turban, anyone with a beard, anyone who looked Middle Eastern was then singled out and targeted. And there were some report about attacks against Jews and by Arabs."


“We have a dynamic and changing community that if we don't pay attention to this, we could have troubles later on.”


"You build diversity into the process. It was really destroying the fabric of our communities. We were trying to figure out how we were going to make it through this challenge.

We were going to be running into and going to war with a lot of folks that looked like people that lived in the community. How were we going to differentiate the global issues from the local issues and create the kind of fabric that was going to withstand the onslaught of international events?

We brought together all different kinds folks representing this incredible diversity that… it was really centered on Coney Island Avenue, because that's where we thought the problems could be.

There was representation from the Jewish community, from the Pakistani community, from the Arab-American community, the Chinese community, the Latino community.

We met on a bimonthly basis, every couple of weeks, sometimes twice a week.

We were doing it to plan an agenda, how we were going to work with each other. We decided to back away from a heavy political agenda. We weren't pushing a right agenda or a left agenda. We were pushing a Brooklyn agenda. And one of the main issues we identified was hate crimes.

They came up with a statement of commonality. "We are all Brooklyn," that was the statement. We're all Brooklyn, we're not just Pakistanis, we're not just Jews, we're not just this, we're not just that, we're Brooklyn. And this is how we are going to meet this challenge of what's going on in the world.

People went back to the mosques, back to the synagogues, back to the churches and said listen, ‘We all don't agree on what's happening in the Middle East. But we do agree that we wanted commonality, we wanted the ability for us to live together in Brooklyn. Let's calm down!’ And there hasn't been an incident since.

I like it when we can make it work, when we can fix those little pieces of the world. That's my pulpit. That's my synagogue. That's rabbi Bob. I do my best worshipping in the streets."