A 2007 editorial mistake by an unnamed Canadian has been roiling Teaneck township council meetings.
Earlier this year, Teaneck resident Rich Siegel discovered an article on Wikipedia that asserted that Teaneck was a twin city with Beit Yatir, a Jewish village just over the 1967 border in the west bank. Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that anyone can edit, is one of the most popular sites on the internet.
Siegel, who describes himself as a Jewish anti-Zionist activist, set out to find the origins of this relationship.
“First I wrote the mayor and he ignored me,” Siegel told the Jewish Standard. Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin did not return requests for comment.
“Then I sent certified letters to the mayor and all the members of the town council. It was at some expense, but I wanted to show them I was serious about getting an answer,” Siegel said.
Siegel did hear from Elie Katz, a council member who is a former mayor, who said he had never heard of the twinning. Neither had Jacqueline Kates, a former mayor and former council member whose tenure on the council dated back to 1996.
Siegel spoke at a council meeting in January, demanding that township officials publicly renounce the connection. In February, following a letter he wrote on the topic that appeared in the Suburbanite, five other residents stood up at the council meeting to protest the reported twinning.
“We were able to determine that no one had brought this before the town council. They just decided to set the thing up unilaterally,” said Siegel.
Who “they” were was not clear to him.
However, an investigation of the editing history of the Wikipedia article about Beit Yatir shows that the reference to a twinning with Teaneck was inserted by a Canadian editor who goes by the name “Shuki.” Shuki had added a line that Beit Yatir was twinned with Teaneck in 2007, shortly after creating the article, which he based on one in the Hebrew edition of Wikipedia.
The Hebrew article, however, made no mention of a twinning relationship with Teaneck.
Shuki did not return a request for comment left on his Wikipedia user page. According to that page, he has created 149 Wikipedia articles and is responsible for more than 10,000 editorial changes to the site in his five years of Wikipedia involvement. Most of his articles concern Israeli places and personalities. He has been heavily involved in the disputes between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian editors that make articles on topics as apparently neutral as hummus deeply contentious. In December, he was banned from editing Wikipedia for six months, for allegedly using a false account to vote on the deletion of controversial articles concerning Israelis and Palestinians.
So why did Shuki claim a connection between Beit Yatir and Teaneck?
Most probably because there actually is a link between the two communities: Beit Yatir has long been twinned with Teaneck’s Beth Aaron congregation.
The synagogue has supported Beit Yatir’s summer camp and playgrounds, according to congregation president Larry Shafier. Synagogue members visiting in Israel have gone to Beit Yatir and posted snapshots on the congregation’s website. Beit Yatir residents have written articles for the Beth Aaron newsletter.
As for the Beit Yatir article on Wikipedia: This week it was corrected to read that the twinning was with the congregation.
Could Teaneck decide to officially twin with an Israeli town?
“It would be something to be viewed on a case-by-case basis,” said Deputy Mayor Adam Gussen. “We certainly don’t have a policy for twinning with other municipalities.”
Siegel said he personally would oppose an effort to twin Teaneck with an Israeli city. “I’m an anti-Zionist. I would be personally against a twin town relationship within the Green Line as well.”
Nonetheless, he said, “if it went through proper channels, by a vote of the people of Teaneck or the town council, that would be none of my business. My concern is people acting unilaterally.”
At present, 18 New Jersey municipalities are twinned with foreign partners – if Wikipedia can be believed. And in the case of its listing of New Jersey municipal twinnings, it can’t be. According to the listing, the city of Camden has twinned with Gaza City.
But there are no citations, no references to the twinning discovered online, and, perhaps most compellingly, said David Snyder, the local Jewish official whose job it would be to monitor official ties between Camden and pro-Palestinian groups, that it’s news to him.
“I have never heard of this and cannot imagine it,” said Synder, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Southern New Jersey. “I’ve been in the community for 20 years and that has never come up.”
|Other synagogue twinning projects|
Beth Aaron’s twinning with Beit Yatir is only one of a number of direct connections between Bergen County and Israel.
At least two other Orthodox congregations have twinned with communities in the west bank.
Cong. Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck has twinned with Otniel, a village of 120 families about seven miles northwest of Beit Yatir. The American congregation has bought security equipment for Otniel, and sends shalach manot to each resident on Purim.
The Young Israel of Fort Lee partners with Dolev. “In the early years, we supported them financially and helped them found a day care and kindergarten,” says Rabbi Neil Winkler.
Three additional congregations, two Reform and one Conservative, have twinned with Israeli congregations:
Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes is twinned with Cong. Yozma in Modiin. “In 2006, we brought a Torah to them. Since then, we visit Yozma every other year with our congregational trips,” says Rabbi Elyse Frishman.
Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge has a long-standing relationship with the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, which includes sponsoring scholarships at the Reform community’s school.
The Jewish Community Center of Paramus is an overseas member of Kehilat Yaar Ramot, a Masorti congregation in Jerusalem. “We try to support their fund-raising efforts when we can,” says Rabbi Arthur Weiner.