Last Shabbat, Jews were scared in Teaneck. If we adequately take stock and resolve to be stronger in the future, we can mend our missteps and lead in the struggle across America for Jewish identity, Jewish security, and shared U.S.-Israel values.
About 250 vehemently anti-Israel protesters demonstrated in our town on the Teaneck Municipal Green on Shabbat afternoon. With Israeli and American flags in hand, I arrived at the demonstration at 2:15 p.m., along with Miriam Rapaport-Hindin, our children, and three others.
We were unsure of where to stand until a police officer kindly directed us to the south lawn, which was safely arranged to accommodate the pro-Israel counter demonstration. One other pro-Israel demonstrator was already there, a righteous Christian from New York who explained that “as the Jews of Teaneck are observing Shabbat, I’m standing up for them to ensure that what happened in New York City this week doesn’t happen here” (@lukemoon1).
We were immediately joined by Yehuda Marcus and a handful of others, and eventually our numbers “swelled” to about 15. Midway through the rally a police officer, incredulous about the absence of a pro-Israel turnout, asked: “Where are your people?” I explained that there was a communal sense of fear, to which he responded, “We’re here to keep you safe!”
Yehuda Marcus beautifully likened our meager presence to that of Mordechai, who refused to bow to Haman. That single act of defiance reverberated across Shushan, just as our presence last Shabbat outsized our small numbers.
As the anti-Israel protesters demonized Israel, glorified Hamas, and called on Congress to end Israeli security assistance, Miriam Rapaport-Hindin composed and led the powerful chant: “We want peace, Hamas must cease!”
Next, the leaders of the anti-Israel protest turned their attention to Teaneck’s occupation of Lenni Lenape tribal territory. By linking the fight against white supremacy and colonialism in Teaneck to what is happening in Palestine, the rally-goers piggybacked on the growing trend of hijacking progressive movements in order to attack Israel. More subtly, however, the protesters’ focus on local Native American land nefariously insinuated that the Jews in Teaneck, like the Jews in Israel, are unconscionable foreign occupiers.
In short order, fringes began shouting at us to “go back to Germany to take showers.” One man closed his eyes and, with the approval of his friends, declared with all sincerity that he was sorry that Hitler failed to finish the job.
But of all the remarks by the anti-Israel protesters, what struck closest to home and should trigger deep introspection was that we, the pro-Israel and Jewish community in Teaneck, are “nothing, are insignificant, and will always be outnumbered and hated.”
A layer of accountability for the events last Shabbat rests with our town officials. Perched in their offices in the municipal buildings, they dispassionately oversaw the events, careful to avoid taking sides even as the protesters denied Israel’s right to exist and glorified Hamas.
Worse, some officials had the gall to castigate us, the pro-Israel counterdemonstrators, for our activity. The sentiment conveyed to us was that had we not been present, we would have avoided eliciting Nazi rhetoric, and the anti-Israel rally would have ended sooner and with less impact. That logic is flawed because irrespective of our presence, the anti-Israel rally was well-attended and well-planned, with scheduled speakers and local press coverage.
But more broadly, the tactic of ignoring anti-Israel events so as to detract from their credibility is sorely misguided. The rally and its virulently messaging dovetail with a raging narrative warfare to demonize Israel and vilify its supporters. That campaign is already mainstream, and when its nefarious messages are spread and we fail to present our narrative, we cede ground and lose public support.
That is particularly the case when the campaign of hate is brought into the heart of our neighborhood and successfully stokes fear and insecurity. To be clear, I fully appreciate the challenges that our elected town officials routinely face in managing intractably divergent political views in a pluralistic town, but in this instance their actions were ill-conceived.
An additional layer of accountability rests with our rabbinic and shul leaders, who unnecessarily sowed Jewish fear. Congregants were instructed to avoid our municipal area for concern of escalation. Shabbat schedules were rearranged and walking groups rerouted to avoid provocation.
The instructions were apparently driven by a desire to accommodate local police, who had indicated that a counterprotest would be “unhelpful.” But I ask, “unhelpful” to whom? And by that logic, we should remove our kippot and the mezuzot from our doors because those symbols of Jewish identity also are “unhelpful” targets for antisemitism?
Overall, the messaging from our leadership on Erev Shabbat, unintentionally, portrayed the anti-Israel protesters as the indomitable “giants” observed by the spies in the land of Israel during the exodus from Egypt (Numbers 13:33). That portrayal led to “our perception of ourselves as grasshoppers, which in turn was the way we were perceived by them [the giants],” id. In reality, our police worked tirelessly for our right to voice our values, but we simply were not there to be heard.
We, as community members, should hold ourselves responsible. We are responsible for giving into our fears, for blindly following the misguided advice of our leaders, and for failing to take a stand against our better judgment.
Collectively, we tacitly condoned a vile anti-Israel and antisemitic rally in our own backyard. But additional rallies, in support or opposition of values we cherish, will take place in and around Teaneck. If we attend those rallies with confidence, as so many of us did on Sunday in Tenafly, and openly embrace our Jewish identity and pro-Israel positions, the missteps around last Shabbat will soon fade and we as a community will emerge stronger and more resolute in our convictions.
Doron Hindin is a member of Congregation Shaare Tefilah in Teaneck.