March 2, 2024
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A Teaneck Friendship Based on Shared Goals, Mutual Respect and Responsible Development

Teaneck—Only in Teaneck does a Muslim member of the community know the best shuls to find kugel and cholent on Shabbos morning. And only in Teaneck does an Orthodox Jew know the best way to break a fast on Ramadan. Teaneck councilman and former mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin doesn’t just count his fellow councilman Mark Schwartz among his most trusted political allies, they are also great friends and close colleagues. “When I think of Teaneck I first think of its diversity. It is our greatest strength,” said Hameeduddin.

“We each have three generations of family in town and extended family all over Teaneck,” said Schwartz, who is also JLNJ’s co-publisher. “Both our communities are invested heavily in Teaneck, from family and support structure vis-à-vis schools and houses of worship.

The concept of being active within and contributing to the community, even if people are not from the same faith, is deeply rooted in the Islamic and Jewish traditions, said Hameeduddin. “I am proud to have worked with Mark Schwartz for the last 10 years. He has been a volunteer fireman and Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps member. I have been involved with the Teaneck Food Pantry since its founding,” he added.

“Both communities, I have felt, and continue to feel, there is bigotry towards us in the outside world. It is a relief to know that such issues are not an issue here. The overt racism that both communities face is not tolerated in Teaneck,” said Hameeduddin.

“Both our communities are vulnerable to hate. In the USA, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism create the two most prominent terror victim groups. Teaneck has large communities of each of these groups, in addition to a large African American community, and protecting them, while showing mutual respect to each other and all groups, is the challenge we must accept,” said Schwartz.

Sitting on Teaneck’s town council has allowed both men to get to know each other and to appreciate the shared traits of their Muslim and Jewish communities. They have identified shared sentiments, schedules and lifestyles. “I always say that if a person never met Mohammed before and just met him, they would think he grew up an Orthodox Jewish male. It’s not just about the kiddush, but about appreciating specific kiddush foods, to holidays, to the craving for food on fast days and, of course, his trip to Israel last year,” said Schwartz.

“One of my favorite stories is when the Adhan (call to prayer) went off on a cell phone,” Hameeduddin told The Jewish Link. It reminded Mark that it was time for Mincha, so he went and prayed.”

Because of relatively frequent fasts on the Muslim and Jewish calendars, the two men are able to discuss in great detail their hankerings for specific foods and can strategize about best foods on which to start or break a fast. Schwartz said this is just one aspect of the council’s diversity, which is currently led by Lizette Parker, Teaneck’s female African American mayor, and makes Teaneck unique amongst towns nation- and even world-wide. “Just look at the council makeup and you will understand why we are such a great model of an intercultural town that works together with genuine respect and understanding.”

Schwartz said that one of the main things that he and Hameeduddin have in common is “our trust in government to assist and protect our facilities. Having so many friends and family who live here deeply impacts our desire to help serve the township. Our shared goal is to continue to reduce the budget’s reliance on single-family taxpayers and spread out the tax burden to commercial and multi-family residences,” he said.

Hameeduddin added that he is most proud of getting Teaneck to be approved to be in a joint insurance fund. “We have saved hundred of thousands of dollars in premiums because of the work we did to fix our labor issues. I am also proud of the development work we have done that will bring in ratables,” he said.

While clearly the most recent and exciting accomplishment of the council is the approval of the World of Wings facility’s rezoning into multi-family housing, there are other large projects the two have spearheaded, along with the rest of the council, including the approval of the Sportsplex at Votee Park, “which will not only have a lasting impact on Teaneck for generations, but was funded with open space funds and grants,” Schwartz added.

Deputy Mayor Elie Katz explained that every step of the way there have been negative forces against the development projects that have come before the council. “It’s so important to have Mark and Mohammed back on the council because of what might have happened or what could have been done if they had not been there to support the projects,” Katz told the Jewish Link.

For example, the new Glenpointe project, which will bring two Hilton hotels—a Homewood Suites and a Hampton Inn and Suites—to the area, is set to bring millions of new dollars in revenue, both in terms of the property tax and the per-night hotel occupancy tax. This project, as well as the Cedar Lane project, particularly the Walgreens on Cedar Lane, and of course the World of Wings rezoning, faced strong opposition from certain quarters, said Katz.

“We had three vacant commercial buildings in the business district on Cedar Lane. It’s not a good reflection on the business landscape, and leaving the buildings vacant would have required residents to pick up the slack in terms of the tax burden,” said Katz.

Katz shared that World of Wings, the third highest taxpayer in Teaneck, was facing a financial crisis and was about to go into a tax appeal but, instead, went into an option contract with a developer; this basically saved the town. Speaking of Schwartz and Hameeduddin, Katz said they stayed the course when they knew the whole story and that the alternatives to blocking the World of Wings deal would have spurned an epic financial crisis. “These two guys looked at the opposition and fought to make Teaneck better. In politics that is very challenging. To their detriment, they will take a hit at the polls for this, but I and they know it was more important to do what’s right for the community,” Katz said.

“Schwartz and Hameeduddin are not extremists. They are not in favor of ‘any old development.’ They are working hard on creating a climate for responsible development with a balance on providing services. We understand these attacks are a badge of honor,” he added.

By Elizabeth Kratz

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