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West Orange Mayoral Candidates Address Antisemitism

On Sunday, October 23, the West Orange mayoral candidates held a forum at congregation B’nai Shalom. The candidates, Bill Rutherford, Susan McCartney, Joe Krakoviak and Cindy Matute-Brown, all answered a plethora of questions previously submitted by town residents. Finance questions asked about how much money the town has borrowed and how much taxes have increased. Questions about city planning asked how the candidates intended to make the roads safer and if they intended to reinstate a full-time town planner. But in a synagogue sanctuary filled with members of the local Jewish community, there was one question that stood out:

“According to the ADL, the Jewish population is the most targeted religious community in the United States, with antisemitic incidents reported at record levels. Over the years, many West Orange residents have experienced antisemitism, especially through Facebook comments. Many town-wide events are scheduled on Saturday, when those who observe the Sabbath are unable to attend. Describe your plan to foster a better relationship between our Jewish population and all diverse backgrounds.”

On December 18, 2021, three swastikas were drawn outside of the synagogue the candidates were now gathered in. In the aftermath, the city council, including those now running for mayor, issued a strong statement in solidarity with the local Jewish community. “[T]he entire West Orange Municipal Government stand[s] resolute with all residents in denouncing the cowardly acts of hate perpetrated against our Jewish brothers and sisters. Acts of antisemitism or bias attacks against any faction of our society, whether physical, verbal or symbolic, will not be tolerated in West Orange,” the statement read. “Such heinous and despicable actions against any one group or individual are considered an attack against us all and our deeply rooted community values. Neighborly love, unwavering unity and mutual respect will rule the day as West Orange will continue to set the standard in always recognizing cultural diversity as our impregnable strength. Those of our residents who bore witness to the Holocaust and the sacrifice of our World War II Veterans are the enduring legacy of our fight against this specific bigotry today.”

Unfortunately, this was not the first time local graffiti consisted of swastikas or anti-Jewish hate. Nor was this the only statement those in the race have issued on the topic of antisemitism. After Ye aka Kanye West’s recent tweet, declaring “death con 3” on Jewish people, Councilwoman Matute-Brown posted a statement on Facebook: “Not only is this [tweet] reprehensible and despicable but dangerous to our Jewish brothers and sisters. We must take a stand to condemn the antisemitic hate and rhetoric that leads to violence and sends the wrong message to our youth. Yesterday it was reported that Livingston school district and the Livingston Police Department are investigating a swastika and antisemitic statement found in one of their school buildings. While I cannot allege this incident is the result of the celebrity’s hateful rhetoric, I caution us not to underestimate the messages received by our youth. We must talk. We must teach. And we must condemn. To our Jewish community, West Orange has and continues to be responsive to your safety and security needs. You do not stand alone.”

Councilwoman McCartney, who spoke about her strong ties to the local Jewish community, told the crowd at B’nai Shalom that “diversity and inclusion are the core values” she lives by. “I am proud of our community, how we rise up and support each other,” she said.

“We should not tolerate discrimination against any group of people, ever,” former Councilman Krakoviak said. “The Jewish community here is vital, and we need to recognize that.”

West Orange resident Cindi Dresdner said she is excited to be supporting Krakoviak for mayor. “From my first meeting with Joe outside the kosher bakery 12 years ago, I felt that he was reaching out to our Jewish community with a sense of shared values. While he and his wife, Claire, sent two of their kids to a religious Catholic school, he sent one of them to the public school, as one of his children required special services. It seemed to me that his experience mirrored that of many of our families: While we carry the burden of paying high property taxes, we also choose to pay for private schools for religious reasons, yet we are still committed and invested in having a well-run quality public school.”

Councilman Rutherford, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, who said that honoring his word and following through on his promises are what he is most proud of accomplishing as a councilman, told the room at B’nai Shalom that it’s important to recognize what an ally actually looks like. “This isn’t about a tweet. This is about doing the real work. Sitting down with each other. I understand the challenges the Jewish community faces and I’m happy to do the real work.”

By Talia Liben Yarmush

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