April 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 17, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Watching a Protest From the Sidelines

Although my home community in Teaneck has already seen a few pro-Hamas/anti-Israel rallies and protests since Oct. 7, last Sunday’s protest outside of Teaneck’s Keter Torah was easily the largest one to come to town. The protest was aimed at what is now the annual Israeli real estate expo that our community has hosted numerous times over the past few years and has been advertised extensively in our paper and elsewhere.

This is an event that I always try to attend for a number of reasons. First, of the dozens of exhibitors who attend—ranging from Israeli developers, realtors, lawyers, financial experts, shipping companies etc.—many are current, former or prospective advertisers of ours and the event represents the one time a year I can greet them in person and say thank them for their ad commitments. If I have not worked with them before, I of course want to introduce them to our publication. And yes, of course, there is also a personal interest—that niggling feeling in the back of my head that I will one day be able to afford a home in Israel, which gives the event an additional tachlis for me. “One day,” I say to myself, “I will be able to afford a down payment.”

It’s an event that I always enjoy and until a week or so ago, that was my usual plan. Unfortunately, as with many Israel-related events today, the pro-Hamas community caught wind of the event and organized the largest protest yet in the Teaneck area.

Despite calls for the event to be canceled, mainly coming as pressure from the pro-Hamas element of the community, the event went on, this time with a massive security and police presence in the area immediately around the shul. Our local leaders requested that the community not come out to counter-demonstrate in large numbers in order to better allow law enforcement to do their jobs, which was to contain the protest and avoid the potential for violence. Indeed, that was the case.

I spent the first hour of the event indoors meeting with and speaking to the many exhibitors and wearing my publisher’s hat. Inside, the mood was upbeat and even a bit defiant. A number of attendees told me that they came only because they felt it was the right thing to do with the protests going on outside. Once I had greeted our guests from Israel, I finally went out to see what was happening. Outside, the protestors were loud and, at times, pretty vulgar, essentially calling for the destruction of Israel and a forced exodus or worse of the Jewish people from the State of Israel. Although I saw a few signs calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, to my eyes, that issue didn’t seem to be a major concern or agenda issue at all.

For the majority of the protestors, it seemed that they were there to protest any and all sales of real estate to Jews anywhere in Israel, regardless of whether it was in Gush Etzion or in downtown Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Thankfully, only two people were arrested and the protestors peacefully dispersed hours after marching down the street to the shul from the Teaneck Armory.

Only a few hours after the event, emails and letters began to pour into our paper’s inbox. Many of the letters we received excoriated our community and leadership for not standing up and organizing a far more massive counter-protest. Sentiments such as “How dare we let these protestors walk through our streets and intimidate us?” “How could we have let that happen in our town and our community?” and “How can we accept this? How can we be so passive?” rang out righteously in our inboxes. A part of me certainly empathizes and relates to this sentiment, even if we weren’t waving Israeli flags as some did. Perhaps we could have done more to make the protestors feel more uncomfortable for having “invaded” the town of Teaneck. Had our community shown up in the thousands along their marching route, would that have had an impact in mitigating the protest? Would it have made us feel better? Perhaps yes, perhaps not. We will never know.

Other letters praised our community for standing strong and for holding the event and also praised our town, county and state law enforcement for showing up in force and ensuring that the protests were as orderly as possible, and the angry exchanges kept only verbal, and not physical. And I agree wholeheartedly with those letters as well. It was a true pleasure for me to speak to our local police officers who were manning the security barriers, and who all did their jobs professionally and efficiently, even if they may have made it a bit tougher for nearby residents to get to their homes or park close to the shul.

I was equally proud to read and hear about some of the initiatives undertaken by groups such as the Teaneck Bergenfield Jewish Moms Facebook group, which raised $2,300 in less than 24 hours to provide food as thanks on Monday for our local police officers and first responders, almost all of whom were on call and active this past Sunday. This was done as a show of heartfelt gratitude to these first responders, who work pretty hard in guaranteeing safety for residents. Kein yirbu, I say!

The Bergen County Jewish Action Committee (BCJAC) also raised a whopping $15,000 for Magen David Adom, as part of a “per protester” fundraiser, which was ingenious and a nice thing for our community to have done.

However, the whole day was one of mixed emotions for me, and I suspect for many others. Certainly, our community as a whole now feels less safe and secure upon seeing hundreds of protestors shouting on our local streets what we hear pretty clearly as them saying “death to Israel and death to the Jews.” And at the same time, the event was held and hundreds of people came and many connections to new homes in Israel were made, so that was a plus.

Perhaps, to pull it all together, a friend and an advertiser of ours celebrated an engagement party for his daughter at Bergenfield’s Cong. Beth Abraham just up the street from the protests and at the same time. While I couldn’t make it to the engagement party, I was concerned about how the simcha would proceed, and I texted him the day after to see if the engagement party was affected by the presence of the protestors. In response, he texted me a picture of the chatan and kallah smiling and posing for pictures outside of the shul, with dozens of protestors walking by in the background behind them, waving Palestinian and anti-Israel flags and signs. What a crazy, unscenic, terrible background, I thought! I almost couldn’t believe it. Why would they want to take their engagement pictures in that setting?

My friend explained to me that the picture will “be a nice reminder for them [the newly engaged couple] of why they made aliyah, b’ezrat Hashem.” And I guess he is right. And as I thought about it some more, I realized that the picture truly captured the mixed moment and timing here. We are living in a time filled with happiness and joy as our community continues to grow and strengthen, and our children are all growing up together, strong and hopeful. But at the same time, it’s also marked and characterized by this undercurrent of hate directed at us, and we have deep concerns about the situation in Israel today and fear for our future here as well.

May the simchas always win the day.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles