April 20, 2024
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Teaneck Kids of All Stripes Enjoy Ices and Torah at “Perek in the Park”

The diversity among Teaneck’s Ortho­dox Jewish community is most in evidence at Perek in the Park, Rabbi Shneur Garb’s gift to the community that attracts local fami­lies from across the hashkafic spectrum on a weekly basis. Approximately 200-250 peo­ple gather for this fun, informal get-together every Shabbat afternoon from Memorial Day until the week following Labor Day. Teaneck residents from other Jewish denominations, unaffiliated Jews, and non-Jewish neighbors are also welcomed and can be found enjoying the children’s program.

Looking around during Perek in the Park, there is a noticeable variety in manner of dress, ranging from hats and ties to polo shirts and shorts, sheitels, different types of hair cov­ering, and bare heads. Everyone seems com­fortable and relaxed, especially the children, who clamor for the popular ices distributed at 5 p.m. on the dot.

Held at Teaneck’s Sagamore Park, Perek in the Park, which is promoted only through word of mouth, features a short presentation for children every week. The speakers all know to limit their presentations to the time it takes for the audience to finish their ices. These pre­senters, who volunteer their time and tal­ent, take their role seriously, but they play for laughs. They range from rabbis of local syna­gogues to a former sheriff of Bergen County, and the simple lesson of each presentation, which is conveyed in an entertaining and ani­mated way, can be on anything relevant such as manners, safety, ecology, “stranger danger,” and Torah lessons which are communicated in a universal way. “This is the closest I’ll ever get to Broadway,” said Dr. Andy Fink, a local phy­sician who has been featured at Perek many times over the years. “So I give it all I’ve got. I love to ham it up.”

After the brief lesson-in-the-round (held at the circular fountain which is turned off by 5 p.m.), most children play in the play­ground while their parents enjoy the op­portunity to schmooze in a relaxed way, often staying until 7 or 8 p.m.

“It’s part of our weekly routine,” said a mother who attends regularly. “We look for­ward to the end of the day every Shabbat when we can socialize with old friends and meet new ones while our kids get their ener­gy out. The whole family has a blast! And for some reason, they look forward to those spe­cific ices. It’s a highlight of their week.” Another parent said, “I love the eclectic environment. It’s an event!”

The project was started nine years ago by Shneur Garb with the help of fellow Teaneck resident Garron Macklin. They are dedicated to ensuring that Perek al­ways takes place regardless of person­al conflicts, that it is precisely punctual, that there are back-up speakers, and most importantly, that there are ices for every child who is there at 5.

“Perek in the Park is something many of these kids have grown up with, and they look forward to it every week,” said Rab­bi Garb. “It simply cannot be late or can­celled for any reason unless it’s raining at 5 p.m. It’s an established part of their sum­mertime Shabbat day, and makes a differ­ence for them. We have to be consistent.”

Rabbi Garb decided to create Perek in the Park in memory of his son Zalman, who died as a baby of RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Vi­rus) in 1997. Garb, along with his wife Rachi, run Perek as a remembrance for their belov­ed child. “I cannot and will not have my Zal­mi remembered as a baby who lived for four weeks and died,” Garb said. “My son brought different kinds of people together. In the hos­pital for the weeks we were there, all kinds of people from different backgrounds and reli­gions—Christians and Muslims and Jews of all denominations—prayed for Zalmi, and peo­ple all over the world said Tehillim (Psalms) for him. My wife and I prayed by the beds of all the children there, Jewish or not. When a person is in this state you feel everyone else’s pain. There were no boundaries, racial or oth­er, and we felt as though all the children were our children as well. That’s Zalmi’s legacy, and that’s why we do this for the local children.”

Attendees have never before been made aware of the motivation behind Perek in the Park or the reason the Garbs don’t go away in the summer. They just know they have a great time while they connect with others from all over the community in a gathering that celebrates the diversity of Teaneck. The children en­joy little lessons—whether a pre-holiday game of charades or a 5-minute play— with their refreshing ices that somehow seem more special than ordinary ones.

By Lisa Matkowsky

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