Monday, March 27, 2023

Sunday’s 90-degrees-and-rising temperature did not deter more than 3,000 Jews and Israel supporters from Teaneck and the surrounding region from marching through the township, cheerfully waving Israeli and American flags, finally converging at a park to enjoy a concert from Benny Friedman.

Marchers, who came from all over The Jewish Link’s coverage region, paraded from Fairleigh Dickinson University at the western end of Teaneck, up Cedar Lane and finally to Sagamore Park in the middle of town near Route 4. Teaneck municipal police, Bergen County Sheriff’s Deputies and Community Security Service personnel were dotted along the route to ensure safety and security. The march was supported by the local day schools, synagogues, community organizations and several sponsors. Babies in their parents’ arms, students and senior citizens highlighted the community’s diverse tapestry of Israel supporters.

The “Unite for Israel” Parade, organized hastily by a small group of residents, was designed as a way for locals to stand up and celebrate Israel in a time of rising antisemitism in America, particularly in the wake of Hamas’ terror war against Israel. In addition to actual attacks on Jews in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere, a meteoric rise in hate-filled, pro-Hamas-spun rhetoric containing antisemitic tropes, which has been reported in mainstream press as fact, has made many Jewish community members in the region feel unsafe. The event also was seen as a small attempt or
salute to New York’s Celebrate Israel Parade, which was canceled for the second time due to pandemic rules.

Councilwoman Karen Orgen, one of the parade’s primary organizers, told those assembled that it was her daughter Allie’s initial idea to organize the event. Allie, on her gap year at Midreshet Harova, was marching in the Jerusalem Day Parade in Israel on May 11 when rockets began raining down from Hamas. Allie was forced, with her classmates, to take cover while on the street, using only her hands to shield her head and face from the possible attack.

“People have a lot going inside right now. We wanted to create a positive way for people to express their feelings about what’s going on with Israel and with antisemitism here. We called it a parade on purpose and did a concert, on purpose, because we wanted it to be a happy, celebratory experience and that’s exactly what we accomplished. We got so much feedback from people who felt they needed it just then,” Karen Orgen told The Jewish Link.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer told the assembled group that as long as he was in Congress, he would fight to support Israel and its right to defend itself. Gottheimer, along with Jewish Federation CEO Jason Shames, spoke passionately about their work to support Israel in their unique roles serving northern New Jersey. Several other elected officials were on hand, including County Commissioner Tracy Zur, Teaneck Mayor Jim Dunleavy, Deputy Mayors Elie Y. Katz and Mark (Mendy) Schwartz [who also serves as Jewish Link co-publisher], Councilmembers Michael Pagan and Keith Kaplan and Bergenfield Councilwoman Ora Kornbluth.

“The parade and concert, attended by thousands, showed the unwavering support for Israel by the Teaneck and Bergen County communities and beyond. I especially want to thank our non-Jewish friends who showed up or sent their words of support. This could also not have happened without the assistance of our township and its agencies,” said Schwartz.

The capstone of the event was a concert by Jewish music legend Benny Friedman, who belted out his “Ivri Anochi” and “Yesh Tikvah” tunes with energy and excitement. The many high school students and children in the crowd danced, sang and swayed to the vibrant and dynamic sound, which veritably drowned out protests from Palestinian sympathizers and members of the Neturei Karta. The protest group, which was dwarfed by the crowd of pro-Israel rallyers, assembled across the street from the park and were separated from the pro-Israel marchers by a temporary fence and by police personnel and a county rapid response team wearing riot gear.

“What was concerning was that at the end of the concert, as everyone was leaving, one of the protesters waved a Hamas flag,” said Orgen. “The rest of the rhetoric against Israel and what was out there was peaceful. But to me, Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization in the U.S. I don’t know legally what it means, if you can wave a Hamas flag in America without consequence,” she said.

The parade sponsors included Cross River Bank, with the following supporting organizations: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, New Jersey Board of Rabbis, New Jersey NCSY, Orthodox Union and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County.

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