NEW YORK, NY — They were two fathers caught up in the storm of the 1991 Crown Heights riots – one black, the other white – who bonded over the shared grief of losing their sons.
Carmel Cato and Max Rosenbaum reached out to each other in their darkest hour to heal a borough split along racial lines.
Cato, 56, reached out again to Rosenbaum’s family Tuesday, placing a long distance call to Australia to express condolences over his old friend’s death.
“I’m so shocked, I don’t know what to say,” Cato told Rosenbaum’s wife, Ruth, and son Norman in the brief call he made from his Brooklyn home. Norman and Ruth Rosenbaum told Cato they were moved by his sympathies.
“We’ll get together,” Norman Rosenbaum told Cato.
Max Rosenbaum died Sunday at his home in Australia after suffering a heart attack. He was 85.
“Now I’m getting this news he’s gone. It’s really hard,” Cato told the Daily News.
Cato said he and Rosenbaum could “relate to one another” because they understood each other’s heartache.
In August 1991, a Hasidic driver accidentally hit and killed Cato’s son, Gavin, a 7-year-old black child. Irate blacks formed a mob that descended on Max Rosenbaum’s son Yankel, a 29-year-old Hasidic scholar, yelling “Get the Jew!” and stabbing him four times. He later died.
A decade after the riots ripped Brooklyn, Carmel Cato and Max Rosenbaum met at City Hall in 2001. In a show of solidarity, they condemned racial violence.
“When we hugged, he said we can talk,” said Cato, showing The News one of the baseball bats then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani gave them as a symbol of their common interest in the sport.
“It makes a big difference. When you talk, you realize how wonderful people are.”