After several years’ absence, an Israeli flag will fly from the flagpole in front of Clifton’s town hall. A flag-raising ceremony is scheduled for Sunday, May 15.
The long-running practice had fallen by the wayside after the shuttering of the Jewish Federation of Greater Clifton-Passaic, which had organized the annual event, one of 20 or so such ceremonies representing some of the town’s ethnic groups. According to the Clifton Board of Education, some 81 languages are spoken in homes throughout the city, which has about 84,000 residents.
But after a Palestinian flag-raising ceremony at city hall last month, sponsored by Clifton’s Palestinian American Community Center and the Arab American Civic Organization of Paterson, community activist Steven Goldberg scheduled a ceremony to raise the Israeli flag.
“We should be doing at least as much as the other side is doing,” said Mr. Goldberg, who has lived in Clifton for more than 20 years and has run, unsuccessfully, for the city council.
On April 17, a Palestinian flag was raised officially in Clifton, making the city the third in the state to do so. Paterson was the first; it held its fourth annual ceremony last week. In March, North Bergen became the second town to join the trend.
“The raising of the flag should be understood as the concrete expression of our serious and effective participation in our civic duties,” said Khader “Ken” Abuassab, vice president of the Arab American Civic Organization.
“Raising the Palestinian flag in the places you live and reside is something we are proud of,” Raed Odeh, a board director of the Palestinian American Community Center, told the Bergen Record before the ceremony. “We are thankful to the city of Clifton. This is something that really means a lot to us.”
The Palestinian flag-rising ceremony, in front of hundreds of people, included folk dancing by a troupe of teenage boys, a delegation of anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews from Neturei Karta, the anti-Zionist Satmar offshoot, and chants of “Long live Palestine” and “Free, free, Palestine.”
“I believe we will raise this flag on the minarets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem and all Palestine,” Sheik Mohammad Qatanani, imam of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, told the crowd. “It is a real hope for Palestinians that we have a very just and fair and strong cause and all good people are with us.”
All of this upset Mr. Goldberg.
“In the past, the only things that were raised at city hall were the flags of countries,” he said. “Obviously, Palestine is not a country. When I called at least three of the town council people, they didn’t know that Palestine is not a country. It didn’t seem to matter.
“We really have to a better job about educating people about what’s going on in Israel, because the Palestinians are doing an excellent job in getting their story out there,” he said.
At first, Rabbi Robert Mark of the Clifton Jewish Center was uncertain about whether an Israeli flag-raising ceremony was the best response to the Palestinian move.
“At first, my response was why call more attention to it? It’s over,” he said. “Then I saw an Israeli flag ceremony as an opportunity to speak frankly to the public, to put on the line exactly what Israel is and how much good it does for the world.
“It’s time for us to be aggressive in telling our story. No more being soft-spoken,” he said. “People have to be made aware of the benefits of Israel and the risk of the other side.”
Rabbi Mark’s congregation is Conservative, and shrinking; the Jews moving into Clifton and nearby Passaic in recent years have been Orthodox. So Rabbi Mark has reached out to Orthodox congregations in Passaic, Short Hills, and even Livingston to garner support for the May 15 ceremony.
“This is not an issue of Orthodox or Conservative or Reform or secular Jews,” he said. “Every single Jew has to be interested in this.”
He said he has gotten a good response from Congregation Adas Israel, Ahavas Israel, and Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton.
He also has approached public figures. Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) is planning on attending, Rabbi Mark said. “This is not a Clifton issue,” he added. “This is a Jewish issue.”