For the last few years, the Jewish Center of Teaneck has marked Martin Luther King Day with a program that makes clear the shul’s commitment to social justice. That’s something that’s particularly important to its rabbi, Daniel Fridman.
“In the past, we’ve had wonderful speakers like Theodora Lacey or New Jersey State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal,” he said.
Theodora Lacey, who spoke at the shul in 2018, is the civil rights activist and educator who helped integrate schools in New Jersey, among many other achievements. “She helped organize the Montgomery bus boycott, and Dr. King was the pastor of her church, hired by her father,” Rabbi Fridman said last year. And their church’s youth leader? She was Rosa Parks.
Mr. Grewal, who spoke last year, is the first Sikh to be a state attorney general anywhere in the country; he is passionate about civil rights and works hard to protect and promote them.
This year, though, Rabbi Fridman is doing something different. Instead of one speaker, he’s invited a panel; he will moderate a discussion among three men, Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, who is Muslim; a former mayor of Teaneck, Kevie Feit, who is Jewish; and former Teaneck town manager William Broughton, who is Christian.
“This year we thought it would be good to have a conversation,” Rabbi Fridman aid. “There has been a process, since Pittsburgh” — that’s the murderous attack that killed 11 Jews in a synagogue there in October 2018 — “where we have been feeling anger and hate directed at us in a way that the Jewish community largely had been spared in recent decades, or even recent generations. In the light of these events, I think that we have a different kind of appreciation of the violence other racial and religious groups have faced.
“Dr. King spoke from the perspective of human dignity; of people being created in the image of God. That alone makes this kind of violence anathema. But beyond that, Dr. King spoke about using nonviolence as a way of communicating important messages. So in light of his focus on human dignity, and of humans as being in the image of God, Dr. King’s day is a day to reflect on both of those things.
“Given the violence that surrounds us, after Jersey City, after Monsey, this will be a way of re-centering ourselves. Even if people are upset, whatever grievances they have, Dr. King’s legacy of nonviolence should help us get back to seeing each other as being created in the image of God.
“Teaneck is a very diverse town,” Rabbi Fridman continued. “I don’t think that in the current environment, we can think that everything just will stay harmonious.” Not without working to maintain that harmony, that is.
“Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of anger around. We saw anger against many groups expressed in Charlottesville” — that was the Unite the Right march that began with tiki-torch-lit chants of “Jews will not replace us,” ended in the death of Heather Heyer, and then was explained by President Donald Trump, who said that really there were “very fine people on both sides.
“There is anger against Muslims that we saw in New Zealand,” when a murderer killed 51 people and injured 49 others in attacks at two mosques in Christchurch. There have been mind-numbingly many murderous attacks against churches that have killed many worshippers across the United States, mainly in the south and southwest. And “there is anger against Jews,” as evidenced by the spate of attacks that have been happening almost every day in Brooklyn, and turned into tragedy in Monsey and outright murder in Jersey City. “We all have a shared stake in helping to prevent violence to coming to our town, and I hope in that way to honor Dr. King’s legacy,” Rabbi Fridman said.
“The three people who will be on the panel have dedicated very substantial parts of their lives to public service. They all obviously represent different backgrounds — an African American Christian, a Muslim, and a Jew — but they all feel very strongly and very similarly about the town.
“I hope that the conversation will allow each of the participants to bring their own voices, their own perspectives, and their own points of view to the conversation. I do hope that having the conversation will become a microcosm” of a larger reality, and that “we can see people coming together.
“I hope that we all will be able to see that it’s not only about living together and tolerating each other; it’s about respecting and even cherishing each other, as people who call the same town home.
“I hope that this conversation also will be a microcosm of what a harmonious conversation looks like. Of harmonious coexistence.
“I think that this town is very special. Its history is at the forefront of school integration. Like any place, it certainly has had its challenging moments, but I think that Teaneck has a lot to be proud of, and the fact that people want to get together about what it means to live together is a very positive thing.”
The evening is open to everyone, and Rabbi Fridman hopes that members of the town’s many communities all will be represented there. “I would like to think that anybody who lives in Teaneck, or even in the surrounding communities, would like to come. I would like to think that we all have a vested interest in making sure that we all are living and raising our kids in an environment where people really respect each other.”
What: “After Jersey City: Pursuing Communal Harmony in a Polarized Age”
Who: Rabbi Daniel Fridman moderates a panel with Teaneck’s Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, former Mayor Kevie Feit, and former Town Manager William Broughton.
Why: In honor of Martin Luther King Day
When: On Sunday, January 12, at 6 p.m.
Where: At the Jewish Center of Teaneck, 70 Sterling Place
For more information: Go to www.jcot.org, email email@example.com, or call (201) 833-0515.