by Phil Jacobs
In Baltimore last week, in a case that some are comparing to the Trayvon Martin tragedy in Florida, a city circuit court judge found one of two brothers guilty of false imprisonment and second-degree assault. He was acquitted on charges of carrying a deadly weapon, a walkie-talkie.
The incident happened in November 2010, when Eli Werdesheim, a member of the predominately Orthodox public safety patrol Shomrim, responded to a call that a black teen was looking into homes and cars in a "Jewish" neighborhood.
Eli's brother Avi was in the car, but wasn't a Shomrim member. He was acquitted of the same three counts. Eli is a former IDF Special Forces soldier. The judge said last Thursday that he used his IDF training to injure the black teen.
Shomrim, it should be known, has been far more beneficial for the community than this one incident might suggest.
The group has spent countless hours rescuing individuals who attempted suicide, or finding missing people in Silver Spring, Columbia, Burtonsville and in the suburbs of nearby Baltimore. Shomrim members have given up many a Shabbos to get in the car and track down a missing person.
What I, as a former Shomrim member, hope is that the Shomrim has learned some lessons from this incident.
In many of our neighborhoods, volunteers patrol streets, help neighbors and spend their own time and money at least detering crime. Shomrim has done this for years.
One lesson that it hopefully learned from the Werdesheim incident is that for a community public safety group to succeed, it has to work with the police and professionals. Shomrim often billed itself as the "Eyes and the Ears" of the police. This one time, someone got out of his car, and forgot that description.
There were, I feel, many who wanted this case to turn into some sort of racial imbroglio. Fortunately, the strength of leadership in both Jewish and black communities prevailed.
This Shomrim member made a mistake. But it's one from which we can all learn and move forward.