Central Square Group Irks Shopowners

Preaching Three Times Per Week Frightens Away Customers, Say Shopkeepers

Shopkeepers in Central Square say that the Hebrew Israelites, a group which preaches its beliefs into a microphone in front of the area's shops, are frightening potential customers away.

The preachers, who first appeared this summer, say that "the white man is the devil," call white Jews "fake," and also counsel Black youths to avoid drugs. The Israelites speak three times a week in the middle of Central Square.

"It's a disgrace," said Vicky Ribeiro, an employee of Emily Rose, a woman's clothing store in Central Square. "Folks stop to watch and pack right in front of the door. We lose so much business."

According to the Cambridge Tab, business owners in the area have met with Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 to discuss their concerns, but the mayor defended the group's right to speak under the First Amendment.

When the group preaches, about 10 members stand in a circle around one speaker with a microphone, who uses evidence from the Bible to support views opposing racial harmony.

Moses was originally Black, they believe. "God cursed Moses," said one of the leading speakers, according to the Tab, "and turned his behind white."

One member of the Hebrew Israelites told the Tab that the preachers are "trying to raise up the brothers and teach them true nationality." But Central Square store owners say their businesses suffer from the Hebrew Israelites' activities.

"They intimidate customers and scare away foot traffic," said an employee at another store, who wished to remain unidentified. "When you see what they say, then you will see why we're reluctant to give our names."

And Central Square visitors also complain of the group's views. Bob Stuckley, who works for Global Family, an organization which promotes world peace and harmony, said he has been listening to the group since the summer.

"There is harm in everything they are doing," Stuckley said. "There is nothing that is concrete or consistent in what they are saying."

Some Central Square businesspeople hope that weather or retaliatory action will scare the group away.

"I have a feeling they might go away once the cold weather arrives," said Steve Kim, the manager of an area sandwich shop.

One Central Square store owner even tried to drown out the group with a microphone of his own, according to a witness. And a few homeless people in the area are taking offense as well. Said a worker in the "Tas-t" sandwich shop: "Even the drunks moon them."