Monday, August 03, 2020

As those on Teaneck’s active town-related social media sites may already know, I was recently sent a screenshot of divisive comments made about me and others in a private group chat. The poster stated that five specific members of the Teaneck Town Council were not present at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event that was held last week.

To be clear, I may not have been so taken aback had this person reached out ahead of time to any of those they called out. At the very least, this individual may have mentioned that Councilman Jim Dunleavy, who was of those “called out for not being present,” was, in fact, in attendance—or understood that Councilman Keith Kaplan was at home tending to a sick wife with the flu. Or that since yeshiva school breaks happened to fall on the holiday this year, Deputy Mayor Elie Katz and myself were away with our respective families.

But none of that happened. Instead, seizing on this bit of news, without the benefit of any doubt, the posting seemed to try to score a cheap political point—an implication that Teaneck residents should “remember this” when they next choose whom to vote for.

While it’s still upsetting that such a thing was posted at all, the larger issue is what it represents: that there was no conversation between those who perceived a lack of presence and those who were away; just a desire to blast others and “remind” people for whom to vote. It was unfortunate. It is all the more disturbing because the teachings of Dr. King are as vitally important today to all of us in government as they ever were. He taught us the dangers of divisiveness and hatred—while remaining steadfast in criticism.

Dr. King explained that “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.”

As much as anyone would aspire to follow the teachings of Dr. King, I’m as imperfect as my neighbor. And private blogs and secret groups are damaging to the fabric of our community. They are sensationalist echo chambers and only serve to get people riled up and sow chaos and division.

Folks, public service isn’t easy. And, I know that being elected carries with it the responsibility to stand for and with every community in our town—particularly on those special holidays in which we honor our heroes such as Dr. King.

Each of us on the town council has chosen public service, but no matter what we try to accomplish here, there’s one thing that’s universal among us: it’s not easy for our families, who give us to the public. The time that we get to spend with our families is precious. No one should criticize them for wanting more of that.

If you feel that our family vacation wasn’t the best use of our time, I disagree. I respect that you have those views, but our families shouldn’t suffer every week out of the year. I understand the view, but that’s a conversation we can have, not a screaming match on social media.

Here is what is missed: If we choose to jump and attack in the darkness of a secret group, we are not communicating with each other; we’re not truly empathizing with one another; we’re not trying—really tryin —to understand each other. We’re just lobbing accusations without justification or full knowledge of the facts.

Let’s all do better. Let’s rise beyond bitter political charges. Let’s talk to one another. Dr. King asked us to consider that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Let’s work together to continue to make Teaneck a town of which Dr. King would be proud.

By Mark (Mendy) Schwartz, 
Jewish Link of New Jersey