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Teaneck Hate March ‘Crosses All Red Lines’

The Teaneck Jewish community, which constitutes approximately 40% of the township’s voters, showed up in force at the Teaneck Town Council meeting on Tuesday evening, March 19, primarily to speak during the Good and Welfare portion of the meeting. Scores of Jews shared eyewitness accounts of being taunted and insulted at and around the “Hate March” of March 10, that was initially centered around protests of an Israeli real estate event, which went on as scheduled. Streets around the synagogue where the event was held were blocked off; protesters in cars also were seen running red lights and creating dangerous traffic conditions. Two people were arrested after having been caught shooting red paintballs.

Much of the hate displayed toward Jews—both those attending the event and those caught in the “crossfire” wearing recognizably Jewish garb such as kippot—was antisemitic and biased in nature, most notably the Nazi salute and “Go back to Germany,” “Go back to Europe,” “Jewish dogs,” and Go back to Auschwitz.” These phrases were interpreted as having nothing to do with any perceived real estate event and everything to do with antisemitic harassment.

The debate at the council meeting also centered around the false accusations that the real estate event was a nefarious “Jews only” sale or auction of some kind, and revealed that Council Member Denise Belcher had prior knowledge of and planned in advance to make a public statement about launching an investigation into the event, thus lending legitimacy to an initial false statement that the event violated a number of laws.

“Last Sunday should be seen by all as a red line. All the alarms should be ringing after the abhorrent and hateful protest at a synagogue, which had all characteristics of a pre-Holocaust harbinger of hate, danger and violence,” said Rachel Cyrulnik, a Teaneck resident who is on the executive committee of the Bergen County Jewish Action Committee (BCJAC).

Members of the Jewish community who spoke explained that this protest was the latest in a series of increasing public nuisances, with anti-Israel and anti-Jewish agitators becoming more and more emboldened against the local Jewish community and those who support them, including the police and town leadership. Car rallies over the last two months on Sundays have formed outside of Teaneck, primarily in Paterson, bound for Teaneck’s AUCC (Al Ummah Community Center) as a staging point, and driven past the kosher enclaves and synagogues in the township, which has resulted squarely in the harassment of Jews going about their business rather than serving as a meaningful protest to the war in the Middle East.

Mayor Michael Pagan, in his statements at the conclusion of Good and Welfare, said that he also has been targeted by protesters, with death threats to himself, his family, and particularly to his 8-year-old son. “The dialogue has shifted to a polarizing alarming state, and sadly right now it is hard to envision a day when we can all come together again like it used to be. Because Teaneck will never be the same. We will never be the same.

“And I am appalled by the reactions and comments I have gotten from community members and those outside of our Teaneck boundaries…While I understand the passion of those who are protesting, I cannot condone violence or threats of violence in any shape or form, and when you threaten my 8-year-old son and my family, it is nearly impossible for me to hear your message. And I denounce and condemn the use of symbols of hate such as the Nazi salute,” he said.

Congregation Bnai Yeshurun’s Rabbi Elliot Schrier explained that the grotesque tenor and disgusting nature of the protesters’ speech crosses the line of civilized discourse, recalling that people who attended the real estate event were told, “We are still raping your hostages,” and “Are you afraid yet?”

“This is about Jew-hatred, plain and simple. And the ability for Jews to live in this town free from fear and prejudice just like anyone else.

“We are not afraid, we are not intimidated, but we are tired. Tired of being regularly vilified, slandered and demonized, often from this spot in this room, with textbook stereotyping, blanket statements about ‘the Jews’ or ‘the Jewish community,’ or ‘the Zionists’ when we’re in the mood for a dog whistle. We too are part of this town. We are Teaneck. We are tired of being treated like a nefarious other. We are tired of people deciding for us and dictating to us which speech about Jews is acceptable or unacceptable, as if the metric for unacceptability is when others are sufficiently uncomfortable, even after every bright red line of antisemitic speech has been firmly crossed and left far behind us here in Teaneck,” said Rabbi Schrier.

“We are tired of others flippantly dismissing our hurt and our pain. We’re tired of the whitewashing. We’re tired of the sanitizing. ‘Go back to Auschwitz’ has nothing to do with Palestinian children. ‘Jewish dogs’ and “Are you afraid yet?’ has nothing to do with civilians in Gaza.”

“It should not be difficult for anyone, irrespective of one’s views on the Middle East, to call out and denounce the hatred that is now regularly being directed toward many of the Jews in this town,” Rabbi Schrier added.

Multiple others at the council meeting who spoke in favor of the car rallies continued to minimize the experiences and perceptions of the Jewish community, and in fact several women who spoke in person and via Zoom disputed the fact that Hamas had even raped women or held hostages. They also disputed the view that speaking against “the genocide” happening in Israel was antisemitic. In fact, none of them mentioned that Hamas was the instigator of this war, instead focusing on the plight of innocent children and others stuck in the crossfire in Gaza, which everyone, including all of Teaneck’s Jews, laments.

Teaneck’s Steve Fox, the town’s longtime Holocaust Committee co-chair, said that the tenor of the protests in Teaneck were similar to the proposed Nazi marches in Skokie, Illinois in the 1970s, which resulted in a multi-year legal battle centered around the First Amendment. Fox explained that Skokie was targeted because it housed approximately 7,000 Holocaust survivors at the time, likely the largest concentration in a single town outside of Israel. He recommended that for every 1,000 protestors who show up in Teaneck, the Jewish community rallies 2,000.

Several members of the non-Jewish community who spoke, including a man who identified himself as a classmate of Philip Panell, the Teaneck teen who was shot in the back and killed by a police officer in 1990, encouraged the Jewish community to do “deep reflection” to consider why these protests were happening, with the insinuation that it was somehow the Jews’ fault for bringing conflict to the township. Another speaker, who identified herself as Jasmine, announced at the microphone that there would be another planned protest on March 31, and accused Council Members Orgen and Goldberg of “chilling racism.”

However, Rabbi Daniel Fridman, who grew up in Teaneck, said that the hate march repudiated everything that Teaneck has stood for since desegregation in the 1960s. Most specifically, that “we must reject the targeting of houses of worship in any scenario whatsoever, as we must reject any form of violent confrontation. The Jewish community is strong and will not be intimidated, we are proud Americans who will never hide our love of Israel as a fundamental part of our religious identity.

“We respectfully ask that our neighbors understand that our attachment to the land of Israel is not a matter of partisan politics, it is not intended as a provocation to any individual or community. It is a matter of deep faith commitment as important to my life and the lives of many of my congregants as the observance of Sabbath or commitment to prayer and Torah study.

“We can never accept that we are legitimate targets of harassment because of our faith and religious commitments. We see no reason whatsoever that we should have to choose between being our full selves as proud Jews and American Jews attached to the land of Israel,” said Rabbi Fridman.

Council Member Hillary Goldberg said that the past three generations of her Teaneck family would not be silent if they had witnessed what she did, including the increasingly grotesque and antisemitic protests culminating with the March 10 hate march. “The Holocaust didn’t start with the gas chambers. The Holocaust started with blaming the Jews for the economy, with blaming the Jews for the result of a war, with blaming the Jews for the misfortune of others. The Holocaust started with words. Words matter. Normalizing antisemitism puts Jews in danger.

“Normalizing antisemitism is what has forced us to leave country after country, has put us in camps and gas chambers, and normalizing antisemitism is why having a place to go, when, not if, but when, our neighbors turn on us, is vital. Every day it feels like that moment is here in Teaneck,” she said.

Several residents shared personal thoughts on how the events of the last few weeks have affected their lives. “Please understand that the irresponsible statements that issued from the town council at the previous meeting created a domino effect which led protestors to paint-bomb cars, spray red liquid on people, physically assault Teaneck residents and desecrate the Israeli flag,” said Teaneck resident Yehudit Robinson.

“When I read [the next week] about yet another car caravan heading our way, filled with non-residents coming to harass and provoke residents, I felt despair. Is this how it started in Germany in the late 1930s? Why do I need to shelter with my husband and kids indoors until the caravan has passed through our town? Why can’t I go outside on a beautiful spring day?” she asked.

A particularly incisive comment came from Teaneck’s Maxine Angel. “It has long been documented that it is not the severity of the punishment that deters behavior; it’s the certainty of the consequences. The harassment of Teaneck residents continues because it’s allowed, and on many levels because it’s welcomed,” she said. “Any community or elected leader, who employs tactics to create chaos, sow discord and promote disruption, is unfit and should be called out as such.

“Simply say harassment is wrong, full stop. If you would do this collectively, and if you would consistently enforce the reasonable, longstanding laws and ordinances already on the books, then this would be a step in the right direction,” Angel said.

Heidi Fuchs, a 52-year Teaneck resident, said that the lawlessness with which the protesters have marauded through Teaneck is offensive and places them in sharp contrast to those Teaneck residents who are peaceful law-abiding citizens, many of whom, like her son, give back to the township by serving on the Teaneck Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “The Jews of Teaneck will not drive through red lights on our township roads or throw red paint on cars of citizens. The Jews of Teaneck are productive and contributing citizens of this township. The Jews of Teaneck are brave and will not stoop to the level of the agitators.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, six out of the seven sitting council members had denounced the hate that was aimed at the Jewish community.

The council meeting was also noteworthy for applauding the efforts of those involved in the TILT program, a peer-tutoring program that began this year that brought together public and non-public high school students to tutor middle-school-aged children. A certificate of thanks was given to Adina Lefkowitz, a Teaneck High School teacher and Jewish community member who organized the program. Next year the organizers of the program plan to expand and continue helping create connections between different populations of students within the township.

Also announced at the meeting was that Township Manager Dean Kazinci would be retiring at the end of July, after a 40-year-career serving Teaneck as a police officer and in various other capacities. This announcement was noteworthy in that all Teaneck Council Members expressed unanimous and deep appreciation for Kazinci’s special brand of servant leadership and sensitivity toward their and all Teaneck residents’ needs. A full appreciation of his service to the township will be forthcoming.

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