May 18, 2024
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A Great Kiddush Hashem in Teaneck

When Nadav and Avihu tragically died, Mishael and Eltzafan were told by Moshe Rabbeinu, קרבו, שאו את אחיכם מאת פני הקודש, “Come close, and carry your fallen brothers from the Mikdash.”

This mitzvah of providing kavod acharon (final dignity) to Nadav and Avihu was so important that it justified these two cousins of the fallen becoming tamei (impure) and thereby being ineligible to participate in the inauguration of the Mishkan.

More broadly, we are all aware of the rarified mitzvah of chesed shel emes, of providing kavod ha’mes, the final measure of dignity. It is a singularly powerful mitzvah, such that during the period of aninus, between death and burial, it justifies an exemption from performing any other mitzvot. Moreover, if someone who was a Kohen Gadol and a Nazir, doubly prohibited from even participating in his wife’s or mother’s funeral, came upon a meis mitzvah, someone in need of burial, he would have to compromise his sanctity for the mitzvah. And, having just completed our celebration of Purim, we bear in mind the opening words of Rambam in Hilchos Megillah, that the only possible justification to override kriat haMegillah is not Torah study nor the korbanot in the Mikdash, but only taking proper care of a meis mitzvah, demonstrating how sanctified this mitzvah truly is.

And, for us here in Teaneck, we saw, in contrast to the exalted state of this mitzvah, the extreme depravity of those who came to our community on Monday night. The sheer inhumanity of the vicious antisemites who came to protest ZAKA, those who engage in this holiest mitzvah, is beyond description. It was a triple desecration: of the memories of the kedoshim of October 7, of the most basic kavod haberios (human dignity), and of our kedushas Beis Hakeneses.

It was the clearest possible proof that the rampant antisemitism we have experienced since the outbreak of the war is a conclusion in search of a rationale. The goal posts are constantly moving, rationalizing and justifying hateful behavior.

First we were told that this protest was because our town council unanimously passed a resolution denouncing the worst pogrom since the Shoah, as if this was some act of hostility against anyone. While none of us believed that simply denouncing mass terror would have been controversial if the overwhelming majority of the victims had been anything but Jewish, we were told that doing so was “taking sides.”

As the convoys became weekly events, it was apparently the war of self-defense Israel was waging in Gaza (characterized by unprecedented efforts to avoid civilian casualties) for which we were to blame, even though the two goals of the war, the return of our hostages and the destruction of a jihadist terror organization, are something that all decent people should support.

More recently, we were told that it was an information session regarding purchasing land in Israel held at Keter Torah which led to the full-scale hate march. What was particularly absurd about this particular rationalization was that the protesters believed that this hate march was “necessary” given that the information being shared at the event was about purchasing homes in Yehuda and Shomron, even though not a single individual at the march would accept the notion that Yehuda and Shomron are occupied, but the rest of Israel is legitimately sovereign. As we have heard for six months, “From the River to the Sea.” The attempt to deflect the desire to annihilate the state of Israel and its inhabitants onto questions regarding borders could not have been more disingenuous.

But, finally, if there was any shred of doubt that remained regarding the true intentions of these agitators—to harass the Jewish community and run us out of town—it did not survive the events this week. Protesting those who provide final dignity to the men, women and children butchered and burned on October 7 can be understood in no other fashion than the most malignant form of antisemitism.

We said it would not pass, and with gratitude to this extraordinary kehilla, it did not pass. In your hundreds and thousands, you came out, peacefully, in a manner which is mekadesh shem shamayim (a sanctification of God’s name), but with strength and conviction, to send the clear message that we will not be run out of this town.

I want to thank all of my colleagues in the Teaneck rabbinate, and especially our president, Rabbi Binyamin Krohn, and Rabbi Elliot Schrier, mara d’asra of Bnai Yeshurun, for all of their leadership. I want to thank the leadership of Bergen County Jewish Action Committee (BCJAC) for partnering with us and bringing their extraordinary skill and talent. I encourage each and every member of the community to get involved in BCJAC and their vital work. And I want to thank our tireless volunteers at CSS and CBY security for all that they did this week and for the last six months.

I further want to thank Rabbi Joel Pitkowsky of Congregation Beth Sholom and Rabbi Steve Sirbu of Temple Emeth for standing with us. We also have gratitude to Jason Shames, Naomi Knopf and the leadership of Federation for being there with us. In the face of vicious antisemitism, we must all stand together. And finally, we thank Cheryl Hall, the head of Teaneck Interfaith Event Board, for having the moral clarity and courage to stand with us at the rally.

If those who seek to run us out of Teaneck should return, and we must be prepared for them to do so, we shall respond as we did on Monday night, with overwhelming strength in our numbers and an unbreakable resolve to never allow antisemites to make us fearful. We will always be peaceful and respectful of our wonderful partners in law enforcement and town leadership for whom those who continue to invade our community show no regard. And, we will send them home each time, as we did this week, to the sounds of “Hatikvah,” the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and “V’Hi She’Amdah.”

But, most of all, even under this intense campaign of harassment, we will never allow ourselves to be shaken. Vi’hi she’amda la’avosenu vi’lanu; while this is a new experience for many of us, it is nothing new for our people, who earned the title Yirmiyahu HaNavi gave us, “am seridei charev,” —the nation that has survived the sword,” thousands of years ago. We have no doubt whatsoever that Hamas will be added to the long list of those who sought our destruction, from the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans to the Crusaders, Inquisitors, Cossacks, Nazis and Communists. We reaffirm, this Shabbos HaChodesh, the eternal truth, “Bi’Nissan nigalu, u’vi’Nisan asidin ligael,”— In Nissan we were redeemed, and so we shall be redeemed in Nissan.”


Rabbi Daniel Fridman is the rabbi of the Jewish Center of Teaneck and vice president for community engagement, Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

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