April 8, 2024
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April 8, 2024
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ZAKA Event at Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck Faces Antisemitic Protest

On April 1, hundreds arrived in Teaneck to protest an event at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun honoring the members of Israeli humanitarian organization ZAKA. The protest was planned and publicized by Within Our Lifetime (WOL) and American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), two anti-Israel groups who have made a pointed effort to target Jewish events, both across the country and specifically in Bergen County. According to the posts circulating on social media, WOL and AMP believe ZAKA to have fabricated the atrocities of October 7, used as “fuel” by the Israeli government for the “genocide” in Gaza.

The flyer for the planned protest as publicized by AMP and WOL.

The ZAKA event at Bnai Yeshurun, which took place Monday evening at 8 p.m., featured members of the Israeli rescue and burial organization who recounted their experiences following the attack on Israel by Hamas. The event highlighted the work of Simcha Greiniman, a veteran volunteer and a commander in Modi’in.

On March 31, upon hearing that the ZAKA event was being targeted by anti-Israel groups, local community leaders banded together to request that the protest be canceled. The Rabbinical Council of Bergen County (RCBC), in collaboration with the Bergen County Jewish Action Committee (BCJAC) sent out a letter urging local authorities to consider how the protest desecrates the memory of those that were murdered by terrorists on October 7, and how it adds to the cascade of attacks on Jewish places of worship in Teaneck in recent months.

“We have respectfully requested from the relevant authorities that this antisemitic event be canceled,” the March 31 letter stated. “As we, at present, have been informed that this will not be possible, we will not remain silent.”

As predicted, a letter from the RCBC on April 1 confirmed that the protest of the ZAKA event would proceed as planned. “As such, we are moving forward, as proud Jews, with a community-wide demonstration at 6:30 p.m. this evening at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun. The event will include divrei chizuk, speeches, singing and tefillah led by the rabbis of the RCBC, the Bergen County Jewish Action Committee, local musicians and many friends and supporters within Teaneck.”

The RCBC’s letter from April 1 outlined the plans for a community-wide demonstration as well as safety guidelines.

Hundreds of Bergen County community members donned Israeli and American flags to stand in the face of hate and participate in the demonstration, during which they heard from local leadership.

Supporters from Lincoln Square Synagogue arrived to show their solidarity with the Teaneck community.

“Who would have thought that the Jews of this town could be targeted for six months after the worst pogrom since the [Holocaust],” said Rabbi Daniel Fridman of the Jewish Center of Teaneck. “We’re here tonight to say that this harassment stops here and it stops tonight. The Jewish of community of Teaneck will not stand idly when the memory of our 1200 brothers and sisters are desecrated; we will not stand idly when our shuls and houses of worship are targeted again and again. And most of all, we are here tonight to say: they will not run us out of this town!”

Rabbi Daniel Fridman speaks to the large crowd outside of Bnai Yeshurun.

“Tonight we stand up against those who want us to feel intimidated and scared in our own town,” stated Rabbi Benny Krohn of the Young Israel of Teaneck. “We stand up as proud Americans, proud Jews in Teaneck, proud supporters of Israel who will not sit quietly as others try to harass, bully or intimidate us. We stand up and we declare that we will never allow anyone to harass us at our house of worship, at our shuls, and certainly not as we pay tribute to those who perform the ultimate chesed shel emet – the fine men and women of ZAKA.”

Rachel Cyrulnik of BCJAC echoed the sentiments of Rabbis Fridman and Kohn, relaying that our strength and stubbornness as a people have pulled us through tough times — dating back to the times of the Exodus. “We are resilient; they will try to weaken us, but we are the inheritors of this tenacity. We are stronger together.”

She continued, “The Bergen County Jewish Action Committee was founded to provide a platform to raise our voices and decry hate in our neighborhood, and we need you. Join us in telling our government officials and law enforcement agents that we deserve to live safely and un-harassed like any other race or ethnicity deserves it. We thank our local and state governments for keeping us safe and encourage them to crack down on these bullies and prevent unauthorized, illegal protests from going forward in front of our synagogues and in front of our homes.”

Cyrulnik, of BCJAC, emphasizes the organization’s efforts to stand up to hate.

The community-wide demonstration continued well into the evening, as participants faced the droves of anti-Israel protestors who continued to shout and chant outside of Bnai Yeshurun. As the ZAKA event ended, police officers moved the protestors out of the area, while the crowd sang “HaTikvah” to end a tense night.

Some demonstrators display their pride with Israeli flags.

Chana Shields of BCJAC reflected on protest and stated that “these attacks on our synagogues have to end. Full stop.” She continued that these types of protests “are nothing more than an attack on Jews and our religious freedoms. ZAKA is a humanitarian organization that collects body parts and human remains after terror attacks and disasters, composed of Jewish and Muslim volunteers who make sure burial is handled according to religious practices. What kind of person opposes that?”

“ZAKA’s work is the epitome of compassion, a true testament to the goodness in humanity,” said BCJAC trustee Aviva Angel. “When our synagogue, a place that champions such kindness, is attacked, it’s an affront to everything we believe in, including our cherished right to religious freedom. Teaneck is a community built on support, unity and respect for all. An act against these core values is unacceptable.”

“The Jewish community stood up and showed we are not going to be intimidated, we are going to stand up for our rights and we’re not going to let outsiders interfere with our programming,” said Steve Fox, who is president of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Teaneck. “We showed up in force and this shows that when we stand up for ourselves there are good results.”

A sign from the demonstration reads “Jews fight back now.”

“I was very happy to see that our rabbis and the local Jewish action community took a strong stance rather than letting protesters run the narrative. Next time a pro-Palestinian group wants to do something in Teaneck they will think twice,” Fox said.

Over the last five months, Teaneck has been targeted by protesters due to its large Jewish community, which comprises approximately 40% of the town’s residents. Virtually every Sunday for the past three months “Wheels for Palestine” has publicized car rallies 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.

“For too long our community has relied on others to advocate for them…it was frustrating to witness,” said Mark (Mendy) Schwartz, former Teaneck deputy mayor and co-publisher of The Jewish Link. “Since October 7, our people have sprung into action — rabbis are engaged with the town, we have new advocacy groups like BCJAC calling for action — and wow, has the community responded. Whether it be attending meetings or rallies such as last week or last night, this response was needed to show everyone that we are here and will not be chased out. I thank the Teaneck Police Department and neighboring towns for their support in keeping everyone safe.”

On April 2, the Teaneck Police Department released a statement recounting the events of the protest and counter-demonstration, including that one arrest was made for bias intimidation and assault. “As the demonstration was concluding, officers observed a man, later identified as Isaac Chavarria, spit in the face of an individual from the opposing side,” the statement reads, noting that Chavarria was released from custody and is awaiting an appearance in court.

Teaneck Police Chief Andrew McGurr stated that 10 neighboring police forces assisted in securing the event and providing mutual aid and resources, as well as the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, the Bergen County Sheriff, the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association, and the Bergen County Office of Emergency Management.


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