July 16, 2024
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July 16, 2024
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Family Accosted at American Dream Mall Over Teen’s IDF Jacket

Maya Vaxman-Magid, her family and a friend were accosted at the American Dream Mall because Maya, 16, was wearing a jacket with an IDF logo. Pictured, from left: Maya, her mother, Adi Vaxman; her father, Ronen Magid; and brothers Ethan Vaxman-Magid, 12, and Tavorr Vaxman-Magid.

The weather was bad on the last day of school vacation, so Adi Vaxman and her husband, Ronen Magid, decided to head over to the American Dream Mall in East Rutherford with two of their children, Maya and Ethan, and Maya’s friend.

As they stood at the directory looking for the mini golf, suddenly two young people, one male and one female, accosted them after seeing 16-year-old Maya’s jacket, gifted to her by her grandparents, bearing the logo of the IDF.

“The male started yelling, ‘Free Palestine,’ and they both started cursing at us and about Israel,” said Vaxman of the expletive-laced, antisemitic tirade, much of it directed at Maya.

“It was a really scary moment,” said Maya, a junior at Fair Lawn High School. “I knew a lot of this had been happening around, but I had never really seen it firsthand. It was surprising and shocking and just says a lot about the world we’re living in.”

She has experienced some online hate because she proudly wears a Star of David necklace and often shirts with Israel’s name. “I was just walking in the hallway at school a few weeks ago and someone walked by and said, ‘F*** Israel,’” said Maya, who didn’t report it because she didn’t want to start “a whole big mess.”

The “offending” IDF jacket that Maya was wearing when she was subjected to an expletive-laced anti-Israel and antisemitic tirade.

Vaxman said at the mall the female was particularly aggressive, at one point slapping the phone out of her hand as she recorded the pair. The video has been posted online. Ethan, 12, and Maya’s friend ran terrified from the two while Vaxman’s husband tried to step between them to protect his wife and daughter.

The attackers continued to scream expletives, especially the female, who called Maya and her mother “w****,” and used other unprintable names and language, including telling Maya to die.

“My husband and I said to them to leave her alone, that she is just a child,” said Vaxman. “They just kept cursing at my daughter. [The female] tried to hit me in the face, but I moved to protect my face and that’s when she knocked the phone out of my hand.”

Vaxman said there was no security around, although people had gathered to watch the altercation. The pair finally gave up and left, but her group never made it to mini golf.

“The kids were way too upset so we decided to go home,” she said.

Until the incident, Vaxman said, she never thought much about Maya’s IDF jacket. “Unfortunately, this incident is very emblematic of what’s happening in this country. It never occurred to me that we’d be jumped at the mall.”

Following the altercation Vaxman reported it to StopAntisemistism, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and the office of Rep. Josh Gottheimer. She was told the state police are in charge of handling problems at the mall and she would have to come into the station at the mall to file a report, but was uncomfortable returning there so hasn’t done so.

Vaxman and her husband are Israeli natives, but both have been here many years and are American citizens. All three of their children—they have an older son at Brandeis University—were born here. They consider themselves to be Americans, but maintain strong ties to Israel.

Vaxman is founder and president of the all-volunteer nonprofit Operation Israel, which has shipped $7.3 million in items such as tents, weather-related gear, flashlights and medical equipment to IDF soldiers. An article about the initiative appeared in the November 22 edition of The Jewish Link (“Operation Israel Raises More Than $6M to Help Soldiers.”) Days later, Vaxman said, her business, Sheba Consulting, where she is COO, was hit with a cyberattack by a pro-Palestinian group.

Still, the mall incident was the first time she had experienced “violent, in-your-face” hate.

“We stay away from protests and demonstrations,” said Vaxman. “We never dreamed we’d be attacked and our kids would be attacked just because of something they wear.”

However, she doesn’t shy away from a fight about antisemitism or Israel in the school district or community. When other students shouted, “Free Palestine” at her younger son in school, he took shelter in the nurse’s office. When a counselor called Vaxman and suggested her son not talk about Israel or the war, Vaxman explained that the family checks daily about relatives serving in the IDF to see if they had become casualties.

“I told the counselor that this is very raw for him so why shouldn’t he talk about it?” she said, “He was upset they were yelling and wouldn’t listen.”

When Vaxman’s older son, Tavorr, had a problem at Brandeis last year she took it up with the university.

“No matter who the group is, no one should have the right to terrorize other people,” said Vaxman. “I think we have a problem in this country, and I think we have to decide if we want to be civilized or allow vandalism and violence. It seems we’ve been allowing it on our streets and college campuses for quite a while.”

Vaxman said she will not stop wearing her own Star of David necklace or supporting Israel but has taken precautions. Her family no longer goes into New York City to visit the museums and attend the Broadway shows they once loved.

Since word got out about the mall incident, Vaxman said she has received hundreds of messages of support. “I think the majority of Americans are good, law-abiding, decent people, but they are silent. Because they are silent no one hears their voices. They just hear the voices of the mob.

“It makes me very scared about the future of America. We consider ourselves Americans and raised our children to be Americans. We intended to have our future here, but now we have to consider: Is it safe? We already had one Holocaust and we are coming very close to the hate that led up to that.”

Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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