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Fires in the Mirror is a play that Smith developed from interviews with residents of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York, after a flood of tragic events occurred in 1991 that started with an Hasidic Jewish man, Yosef Lifsh, hitting another car, careening out of control, and killing one of two crushed black children, 7-year-old cousins Gavin and Angela Cato, who were standing on the sidewalk. Angela survived.
Riots occurred thereafter as blacks attacked Jews while leaders like Rabbi Shea Hecht asserted that the two communities of black and Jew need not mutually understand each other, rather they needed mutual disassociation. Another death--a rage, grief and riot driven, not accidental death--grew out of this with the stabbing of Yankele Rosenbaum, a visiting Australian scholar:
When my brother was stabbed four times, each and every American was stabbed four times and ... my brother [was left to die] in this city ... [where] he bled to death,... (Norman Rosenbaum, "My Brother's Blood")
Smith's interviews captures the surprising attitude alive in Crown Heights that the black and the Jewish communities ought to be separate, ought not to strive for understanding, ought not to united in mind or will as expressed by Rabbi Hecht and Minister Conrad Mohammed.
Quotations that are important would then be ones that speak about the loss that occurred and the fury the losses engendered:
"There's been a riot in new York,
been a riot in Crown Heights,
Yankel's been stabbed and he's dead."
my brother was the last in the world,
I hadn't even given him a thought.
I mean the fact that my brother
could be attacked
it just hadn't even entered my mind. (Norman Rosenbaum, p 106)
Another type of important quote is ones that address the question of identity and the possibility of unity between identities. The negative perception of unity between community identities is one of the candid and surprising revelations that arose and that is revealed in Smith's play. In addition to this, the correlated idea that identiy is deeply rooted to place and circumstance also emerged in a surprising way (thus giving strength to the nuture side of the nature versus nurture question).
I am not necessarily
what's around me.
I am part of my surroundings
and I become separate from them
and it's being able to make these differentiations clearly
that lets us have an identity
and what's inside our identity
is everything that's ever happened to us.
Everything that's ever happened
to us as well as our responses to it... (Ntozake Shange, "The Desert")
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