April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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If you have had the misfortune to sit in, whether virtually or in person, on the Teaneck Township monthly meetings, you would have heard an onslaught of anti-Israel rhetoric, accusations of genocide and colonialism as well as some reciting the names of children killed in Gaza, but not surprisingly, not one word of condemnation from the audience of Hamas, and aside from some of our council members (Hillary Goldberg, in particular) almost no defense of Israel.

No, this isn’t because we don’t have a vibrant Jewish community but it is because, the conventional wisdom has been, not to counter these pro-Palestinian agitators but to let them talk until they see it is to no avail and it will eventually stop. That might have worked until the last meeting on Feb. 27 when known anti-Zionist Richard Siegel slandered the community by suggesting that the March 10 Israel Real Estate Fair at Keter Torah violated civil rights laws because it was only open to Jews and Anglos, and violated international law because it was marketing properties on the (illegal) West Bank.

We then found out that “What Happens in Teaneck, Doesnt Stay in Teaneck,” when his abhorrent comments and subsequent organization of a protest rally went viral on X (formerly Twitter) and had over two million hits. Because there was nobody to counter his outrageous claims (I spoke before he got on), and with Councilwoman Denise Belcher giving him credence by stating she would ask the township attorney to look into his claims, his antisemitic/anti-Israel message spread all over the world and was believed by many—and we all know what happened in our community on Sunday.

Similarly, our proposed Holocaust Memorial & Education Center has become another political football for the past few meetings, despite the fact that a resolution was passed three months ago by a vote of 6-0 and 1 abstention. Led by former Councilman Henry Pruitt and One Voice Teaneck, they have made it their obsession to try and prevent either our proposed memorial or the proposed memorial to Enslaved Africans to be built on the Municipal Green, as has been agreed to over and over by council resolutions. Going on the premise that they want a full audit of both groups, despite the fact that the Teaneck Library did two of them which were made public, they continue to spread innuendo and posit for the library to have something for all oppressed people and no visible memorial.

At the last meeting, I suggested that they use their energy to create something positive like that as the township has allotted space for four memorials on the Green, instead of incessantly trying to destroy a virtuous, interactive, Holocaust memorial before it was even built. Our project, designed to teach the history and lessons of the Shoah, as well as to pay tribute to family members of our community who suffered from the Nazi’s Final Solution, will be the only public, interactive Holocaust memorial of its kind — and we have to continuously deal with these negative distractions from a group who decided they would rather not have a Jewish (or Black) memorial anymore.

Again, aside from myself and a few others, the Jewish community had not recently participated in these meetings in force and these antagonists continue to pile on as they all make it their business to fill the room and the Zoom and control the narrative. We need to have community members step in and defend our programs and positions so it doesn’t seem like the haters rule the day.

I grew up in the throes of the Soviet Jewry movement and although there were those who advocated for quiet diplomacy, the outpouring of Jewish support through visible demonstrations turned public opinion. We are facing a public opinion war in Teaneck, on social media and in the press worldwide and it won’t go away if we ignore it. I am suggesting that the Jewish community mobilize like we did after the war broke out and retake the narrative from the haters. Whether it is at a town meeting (on Zoom or in person) or at a protest/counterprotest, we need to change the way we react to these events and push the pro-Israel, pro-Jewish community message, loud and clear.

Steve Fox
Co-Chair, Northern NJ Holocaust Memorial & Education Center

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