A year after what New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal called “the worst act of domestic terrorism in New Jersey history,” he and other leaders of the Jewish and secular communities came together to mourn the four victims killed in the attack on a Jersey City kosher supermarket.
Grewal was one of many speakers who appeared December 10 during a virtual memorial program sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in partnership with Congregation B’nai Jacob, which is located in the Greenville neighborhood where the hours-long shootout with police, in which the two attackers were also killed, took place.
It did not go unnoticed that the solemn ceremony was held on the first night of Chanukah. Many of those gathered touched on the holiday’s theme of light and goodness over evil as they marked a tragedy that shook both the largely minority community and its Jewish residents, a number of whom are part of the Satmar community.
“Two terrorists sought to divide one of the most diverse communities in this state, in this country,” said Grewal, recalling how in the aftermath of the anti-Semitic attack he was standing outside the supermarket with State Police Superintendent Patrick Callahan when he noticed young children waving at them from the windows
of the yeshiva next door to the JC Kosher Supermarket, prompting them to pay a visit to the students who had been locked down and terrified during a raging gunfight.
When they entered a classroom, the children started clapping and Grewal realized that applause was directed at Callahan in gratitude for saving their lives.
“Somehow it feels fitting on this first night of Chanukah, at a time when we celebrate the miracle of Chanukah,” Grewal said, noting that it was also appropriate to celebrate that the lives of those young boys were spared.
The hate-filled crime spree by two members of an anti-Semitic offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelites began when they took the life of Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, who encountered them in the city’s Bayview Cemetery. They then drove to the supermarket where they killed Mindel Ferencz, 33, who ran the market with her husband; Moshe Deutsch, 24, a rabbinical student who lived in Brooklyn; and Miguel Douglas Rodriguez, 49, an Ecuadorian immigrant employee.
In the year since the shooting spree, the community has responded to that hate by reaching out to one other. Rabbi Bronwen Mullin of B’nai Jacob said that in keeping with Jewish tradition of honoring victims with charity and good deeds, the Satmar and Black communities, as well as members of her synagogue, have made efforts to reach out to each other.
Along those lines, Rabbi Mullin lit an object created by a local artist combining elements of a menorah and kinara, a candelabra holding seven candles to represent the seven principles of the Kwanzaa holiday. “May the light continue to shine this Chanukah and for countless years to come,” she said.
Chesky Deutsch, a community activist, noted that he had established initiatives and worked to create bridges of understanding between the Jewish and Black communities. He had worked with state Assemblywoman Angela McKnight to arrange a coat and toy drive last holiday season for community residents.
Deutsch acknowledged the Black and Jewish communities were “pretty stratified,” but the horrific violence that befell the community a year ago exposed broad issues, including the fear among Jews of being targeted for their religion and the concern of Black residents who fear the gentrification of their Greenville neighborhood and who have long lived with violence in their everyday lives.
An alliance was formed with Pamela Johnson, a local activist and founder of the nonprofit Anti-Violence Coalition Movement of Hudson County, which runs several initiatives, including youth anti-violence workshops and gun buybacks. B’nai Jacob also offered its facilities for community events, all of which sent a message, said Rabbi Mullin, that “we are all stronger together.”
Johnson said the initiatives demonstrated that differences can be overcome by working together for a common cause. “We weren’t necessarily friends with the Orthodox community or any other community, but we’re not enemies at all. What we have in common, what I heard is that we all want to live in a safe, affordable environment.”
Also speaking during the program were Senators Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, who both noted the significance of the anniversary falling on the first night of Chanukah, and Governor Phil Murphy.
“A little light can mitigate the darkness,” said Menendez, while Booker noted that not staying silent in the face of evil, and practicing kindness and good deeds can spread that light throughout the world.
Jewish Federation CEO Jason Shames said he thought that despite the commemoration being virtual because of the COVID crisis, the historically significant anniversary needed to be marked “so people shouldn’t forget those names.
“Those four victims should always be on people’s minds,” he said. “It’s our responsibility, something we owe to humanity.”
By Debra Rubin