April 14, 2024
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Don’t Engage Local Pro-Palestinian Demonstrators

Bergen County–Tensions are mounting around the world with the emergence of the terrorist organization ISIL, as well as antisemitism burgeoning in Europe and the United States.

Media reports on the Internet and TV showing Palestinian demonstrators blockading Jewish congregants in their synagogues in France and destroying at least one Jewish-owned shop, as well as vandalism adorned with antisemitic graffiti, have left many Jews wary of what could happen in the United States. When might something happen in their own communities? And so they are concerned as to what to do to secure the safety of themselves and their families.

On Shabbos, two weeks ago, a small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators protested on public property in front of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, because the pulpit rabbi, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner gave a speech at a pro-Israel rally in July in New York City.

There were just four protesters, including two claiming to be Jewish and one Palestinian, and from all accounts they were non-violent. But this was the third time the small group sought to discomfort congregants with their anti-Zionist and anti-Israel messages, as well as to invade the privacy of the clergy. Police were on the scene at this and previous demonstrations. The demonstrators left before services ended, with one claiming they feared what would happen to them if they stayed when the congregants left. The only person arrested was a member of the temple who defied the wishes of the congregation leaders who had asked the congregants not to engage the demonstrators.

Deborah Tuchman, president of Temple Emanu-El, said congregants and clergy “do not have any issue with protesters who peacefully protest and voice their opinion near the entrance to the Temple’s property.”

JLBC asked a number of local rabbis and shul presidents how they would react. The consensus? Non-engagement was the best course of action. However Rabbi Benjamin Yudin of Congregation Shomrei Torah in Fair Lawn went more directly to the point.

As we witness barbarism and the beheading of people, we remind ourselves how before we attack a building which has in it leaders of terrorism but at the same time innocent people, we will drop leaflets that this building’s going to be attacked tomorrow. No one else in the world conducts themselves by this standard. I would therefore use the opportunity to that even when we have to go to war how special and unique a people are the Jewish people.”

Rose Sigler, administrator of the Teaneck Jewish Center which sits across the street from the municipal buildings , said, “The wisest thing is to keep your feelings and political beliefs to yourself. You don’t want to heat up the political situation and add fuel to that fire. She said we must remember that as safe as we think we are, we’re viewed as visitors here in America. “I would instruct our congregants to be respectful. If we were having a protest we would want the same respect. One of the joys of living in America is freedom of speech. As long as it was a non-violent protest I don’t think there’d be any benefit to creating more animosity.”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, honorary president of the Rabbinical Council of America and rabbi of Ahavath Torah Synagogue in Englewood gave similar advice, but put the security of the congregants foremost.

“First, we have a security system in place and volunteers from the congregation under the aegis of CSS security services. They are regularly on duty in front of the synagogue in cooperation with the local police. There are security guards who are with us as well. They would see that there is no disturbance, that the members of the community are safe. We would advise our community members not to engage the protesters in any way.”

Rabbi Goldin said that even if there was the possibility of violence or if a member of the protestors attempted provocation, he’d instruct the congregants to ignore any attempts at engagement and to immediately report the incident to the security team.

Joe Smith, President of Young Israel of Fair Lawn, said if such an incident occurred in front of Young Israel he would call the authorities and not get involved. As to the congregants, “I’d tell them not to get involved and not to challenge the people. It could only lead to problems and we would rely on the police in town with whom we have a very good relationship.”

Smith said the police have a liaison that works with the shul–keeping in contact with it and also informing the administration of any incidents that occur in the community.

He said he’d give the same advice even if it was Shabbos, “Absolutely, it’s an emergency situation. If it happened here there would be no question that we’d pick up the phone and call 911.”

It should be noted that if such demonstrators were to set foot on private property, such as that owned by a Jewish organization, for the purpose of incitement, harassment or agitation, they would be in violation of the law.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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