After a 12-year-old Jewish boy was sucker punched in the head as the “knockout game” spree swept through his Crown Heights neighborhood last fall, Rabbi Yaacov Behrman, the executive director of the Jewish Future Alliance, knew that a larger police presence was needed.
“It wasn’t an international story until I voiced concern,” Behrman reports. “After meeting with community leaders and the NYPD and looking at the facts, I said during an interview with CBS maybe this is a game of ‘knock out the Jew.’” The phrase went viral, and sparked a police investigation of what was originally suspected to be random acts of violence.
This wasn’t the only time Behrman’s strong coalition and volunteer organization — dedicated to advocating on behalf of Jews and other minorities — decided to take action.
Earlier this year, the JFA was called upon to intermediate when a U.S.-born Jewish man feared for his life following Brazil’s extradition request.
“When we are called upon for help, we can only be effective if we work together and set aside any religious or political differences,” says Behrman.
Behrman is no stranger to activism. His mom went from Beverly Hills to the Peace Corps in Ghana, soul searching through India to Chabad, and serendipitously intersected paths with his formerly secular dad.
“I grew up in a colorful household,” Behrman states. “We had relationships with all our neighbors. Our African-American neighbors would come to my mother for gardening advice and to my father to discuss jazz. I learned that both our communities had gone through persecution and suffering. This allowed me to have a more global perspective.”
The knockout game may have been suspended and the perpetrators brought to justice, but Behrman knows that the fight isn’t over. “There is no excuse for anti-Semitism, but we have to work to educate our communities and stand together,” he explains. “Crown Heights is an example of this. From 1991 on, the relationships between the different ethnic groups in the neighborhood have improved as education continues.”
Globetrotter: Since he was 18, Behrman has visited 14 countries in Africa to do outreach and volunteer work.