May 18, 2024
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It’s a Mistake to Target Teaneck

While at Hostage Square in Tel Aviv, I spoke at length with a representative from Kibbutz Be’eri. I had visited the kibbutz the day before and she shared insights into the situation of the kibbutz hostages and evacuees. Surprisingly, she then inquired about antisemitism in the United States.

I was stunned. After all this woman and her family and friends had endured, she was worried about the Jews of America. She was not alone. The rise of antisemitism globally, but especially in the U.S., is a subject that Israelis frequently raise with visitors from abroad. I told her that while the campuses are a circus and there are large, unpleasant rallies, if she came to my home she would see an Israeli flag waving outside and many supportive signs on my street. I told her we are not afraid and for the first time in our conversation, she smiled.

I wish this woman could have visited Teaneck this Purim.

When we celebrated the bar mitzvah of my oldest son, I highlighted that the history books incorrectly record that the Allies defeated the Nazis. The Allies defeated the German army; my in-laws, along with their fellow survivors, defeated the Nazis. They did this not just by surviving (which would have been enough), but by raising active Jewish families and building Jewish institutions. As a result, every simcha in our family is a celebration of that victory.

As our year of JOVID (Jewish COVID) continues, we confront surging antisemitism, the same age-old virus in its newest mutation. For weeks we have been targeted. Our most powerful response came on Purim Sunday. We did not hide in our homes or even in our sadly fortified synagogues, we celebrated without restraint (and with our unacceptable double-parking habits) in the streets of Teaneck and its neighboring towns. That is what strength looks like. That is how you defeat antisemitism. I so wish the woman from Be’eri and people throughout Israel had seen it.

Before Purim, there was much hand-wringing about the “appropriate” way to celebrate Purim with hostages in Gaza and Israel under attack. I listened to a report on Israel radio that many secular kibbutzim were debating whether to celebrate Purim at all this year. They interviewed a woman from a kibbutz in the south that said that they had decided to only have a celebration for the young children.

The second woman interviewed was from Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot (the “Ghetto Fighters”) near Nahariya—a kibbutz founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors—including veterans of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. For them, the part of the Purim story that resonated was the Jewish uprising in self-defense at the end of the Megillah. As a result, they felt that celebrating Purim this year was even more important.

For most of our community, celebrating Purim was non-negotiable but the manner of celebration was. In hindsight, I am thrilled we celebrated the way we always have. It did not detract from our grief and concern at the situation in Israel, but perhaps without realizing it, we sent a powerful message.

When our enemies targeted Teaneck, they miscalculated. With a large population of committed, unapologetic Zionists, we stand strong and proud. While they seek publicity and intimidation, our best response isn’t always reactionary. Instead, by enhancing our visibility as proud Jews in respectful ways, we undermine their efforts. Yes, some provocations require response, at a time, place and manner of our choosing. We should not play whack-a-mole with the inciters, we must control the playing field. However, our best response is simply upping our “Jewish game.”

Without risking safety or professional consequence, every person has some way in which they can increase their visibility as a proud Jew when interacting with those outside the community. If you have not upped your Jewish game since Oct. 6, consider how you can do it now.

When we get to Shfoch Hamatcha in the Haggadah, instead of sending a single representative to open the door for Eliyahu, maybe the entire family can go outside and say it together. A symbolic sign to the world that we are not afraid. When we get to Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, figure out where on your property you will display an oversized Israeli or Israeli/U.S. flag. Make it our “dam al hamashkof,” the blood on the doorpost that our forefathers displayed in Egypt. If one house on a street displays the flag, they are a target. If every house has a flag, we are strong. Then we need to invite the Israeli press and social influencers to record the sea of blue and white and tell the story back home.

I have lived in Teaneck for 30 years, but never was prouder of our community than I was this Purim. As we read in the Megillah, “mi yodeah in laet kazot”—who knows if for a time like this a large proud Jewish community formed in Teaneck. It made us a target, but it also made us the perfect community to respond and reassure our brothers and sisters in Israel: “We got this, you don’t need to worry about us and we have your back.”

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