What was a young black bear doing in a playground at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly Monday night?
“Playing a little bit,” said Avi Lewinson, the JCC’s executive director. “He was climbing some of the apparatus.”
Lewinson and Paul Costa, the facility director, were close enough to be “almost dancing with the bear,” he said. But, he added, “it was looking to stay away from me as much as I was looking to stay away from it.”
“On all fours,” Lewinson went on, “he – or maybe she – looked like a St. Bernard, or maybe a little smaller. Standing – I didn’t ask him to stand back-to-back with me – he was 5’9″ to 5’11″, a little shorter than me, and weighed about 200 pounds, including a lot of fur.”
The bear soon climbed out of the playground and went into the woods in back of the JCC, where the police, whom Lewinson called, could make him out with their searchlights.
“I don’t feel he was dangerous,” Lewinson said. “He was like a big collie. He never charged and didn’t growl…. He was just doing what bears do…. When he realized we were close, he ran from us.”
This was not the bear’s first venture to the JCC; he was seen there about two weeks ago, and by the time the police got there, he had disappeared into the woods.
“If he was interested,” Lewinson said, “I would have sold him a membership.”
Indeed, said Tenafly Police Chief Michael Bruno, “he seems to like the JCC.”
He added that “we can’t and don’t want to shoot the bear, because he has not become aggressive or threatened anyone.”
Noting that a Dumpster is near the building, Bruno speculated that the bear was “just looking for food in a rather congested area that isn’t conducive to bears and humans cohabiting well…. I don’t think [people] need to be afraid.” He added that he had “asked the director to maintain a little bit of heightened awareness.”
The police are working with the New Jersey Division of Fish and Game, Bruno said. “They are trying to see if they can get a trap installed here, and then they would take the bear and release him somewhere else…. I hope it will come to a quick conclusion that’s safe for everyone, including the animal.”