It was a scene from the 1960s, an angry crowd thronging a Brooklyn police station, the police calling for reinforcements and reaching for their billy clubs in a melee that left the precinct house a mess of torn and strewn documents ripped from files and 70 people injured -- 62 of them police.
In the quiet late 1970s, the citizen-police clash stands out, but it also shocked outsiders because the participants shattered another stereotype -- they were Orthodox Jews, including many Hasidim, a community relatively new to street protest and not associated with violence.
On both sides recriminations continue side by side with effeorts to patch up relations between police and the Borough Park community which has become the larget concentration of Orthodox Jews in a small area in the world.
"What did they injure the police with?" asks Rabbi Morris Shmidman, executive director of the Borough Park Council of Jewish Organizations. "Their soft hats and ear locks?" (The locks worn long on each side of the face are one of the traditions of Hasidie men, who also wear black hats, beards and black coats.) Most of the 62 police did not need serious medical treatment.
The police -- and Mayor Edward Koch -- have ordered investigations of the clash, and have bitterly denounced the Jews for threatening the men on duty and the precinct house.
The clash has drawn attention to the fears and frustrations of Borough Park -- and to the uniqueness of the community.
It was triggered by the murder of Lrving Sussman, 65, who w as found stabbed on the street early in the morning of Dec. 2. He had been attacked as he walked home from Friday night services at the Bobover Synagogue, the center of one of Borough Park's largest Hasidic communities.
Much of urban America has become used to murder. Borough Park isn't. For New Yorkers accustomed to shrugging off the latest murder headline, the immediate outpouring of grief and anger in Borough Park stands out as vividly as the Hasidim in their traditional dress.
Word of the killing spread through the more than 300 Borough Park Synagogues at Saturday services, and men left the services to walk (the only means of transportation permitted on the Sabbath) to the 66th Precinct to protest for a long-desired object: more police protection.
At their most extreme, the Orthodox Jews of Borough Park seem to be asking the police to enforce their morality -- a code of ethics that stresses proper behavior and prohibits television, movies and many bookd, magazines and newspapers. Every violent intrusion is an offense against morality, and stirs echoes of the holocaust.
"The lifestyle of the Hasidic community," Rabbi Mark Tannenbaum said, "is made possible by definable territory and membership. When the preservation of the Orthodox neighborhood is threatened, then so is their religious and communal life. They must react strongly, they believe, or face extinction. A mugger comes to symbolize much more than a mugger, he becomes another stormtrooper."
Sussman's murder was not an anti-Semitic crime, everyone in Borough Park knows. (The Hispanic youths arrested for the murder allegedly, have attacked nonJews in similar apparent robbery attempts.)
Yet, the murder was the final straw for many in a community where Hasidic and other Orthodox Jews speak -- often reluctantly -- of a series of minor harassments and crimes that are a source of tension in a community that wants to be left alone.
"There are hundreds and hundreds of anti-Semitic incidents," said Marvin Schick, a Borough Park resident who was an aide to former mayor John V. Lindsay.
"Blacks face tremendous discrimination, but they are not spit at, jostled on the streets and liable to have their clothing torn off."
Schick's mother recently saw a group of non-Jewish youths snatch the wig from an elderly Jewish woman's head and put it on a dog. (Married orthodox women shave their heads and wear wigs.)
Assemblyman Samuel Hirsch, who was punched and clubbed by police as he tried to calm the crowd, speaks of car windows being smashed and Hasidic men having their black hats grabed by youths who know that on the sabbath an orthodox Jew is forbidden to chase them or take any retaliatory action.
For the police who look at their problems throughout New York, Borough Park is a low-crime area, even though major crimes went up 78 percent from 1973 through 1977 -- much faster than the city average -- before declining 14 percent in the first eight months of this year.
But Borough Park's Jewish community isn't solaced by comparisons to other parts of the city. "Why do we have to have the same crime level as other neighborhoods? Wouldn't it be wonderful if with more protection there was a neighborhood with no crime?" said Rabbi Tovia Rottenberg, director of community services for the Bobover community.
Mingled with frustration and resentment over crime, in conversations with Borough Park residents, is a determination not to abandon Borough Park.
Many of them not only fled Europe, but have run from other New York Jewish communities. They talk of making Borough Park a last stand.
Brownsville, a once-great Jewish neighborhood, is a disaster comparable to the south Bronx. Williamsburg has decayed. Crown Heights, another Brooklyn neighborhood, has been abandoned by many Jews, including the Bobover, who moved their headquarters to Borough Park 12 years ago to escape rising crime and crumbling housing.
"These people cant't say okay, it's time to move. There's no place to move to," Rottenberg said, standing in the Bobover Synagogue that Sussman attended, although the murdered man was not Hasidic.
They can't move easily b ecause they need the community facilities: Not only synagogues to which they can walk on the sabbath and holidays, but kosher food, ritual baths for women and the religious education of their schools.
Borough Park has 41 religious schools teaching 15,000 students -- and saving the city what would be a $35 million annual bill -- a central, vital part of the community life.
The effort to preserve neighborhoods is not a Jewish problem, but in Borough Park it is one to which the people are enormously sensitive in their effort not to have Borough Park recorded as merely another stopping place in the history of the Jewish flight.
"You have to deal with people's perceptions," said Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz, who heads the Southern Brooklyn Community Organization (SBCO). "Once the process of moving out begins, there's nothing you can do about it."
How, he asks, can people define the beginning of deterioration?
Most of the Borough Park looks prosperous. Houses sell for $200,000 and up on the beter streets, and people are waiting in line to buy them. But at the same time, people no longer want to live in the four-story walk-up apartment buildings, all more than 50 years old, that dot Borough Park.
Many of these have been abandoned by landlords, and just a block away from high-priced houses are burned and boarded-up buildings like those in the south Bronx. Ten years ago, Crown Heights looked even more prosperous than Borough Park does today, Lefkowitz said. People know that decline can be rapid once it starts.
Borough Park is 11 by 20 blocks, with about 100,000 people, close to 80 percent of them Jewish and almost all of those Orthodox. There is only one Conservative Synagogue and one Reform temple among the more than 300.
Ghetto is a word that often comes up in conversation. What is remarkable is that while Borough Park is the closest place to a ghetto in American Jewish life today, Schick said, it is essentially a middle-class ghetto.
"I would love it to be a ghetto," said Robert Katz, president of the merchant's association. "What's wrong with a ghetto, as long as we can live in peace?"