Hate has no home here

Hate has no home here

Teaneck group sells lawn signs offering hope instead

Spring is coming.

Crocuses started sticking up from the ground a week or so ago, at first a tentative green, now yellow and purple and bright. Some trees are starting to have a faint green fuzz, and others are developing buds that we hope this week’s cold hasn’t harmed.

So lawns are looking different now. But what’s that burst of red, white, and blue, particularly in Teaneck? It’s a bit too rectangular to be natural…

It’s an outburst of unseasonal lawn signs — they’re frequently spotted in campaign season, but not generally in late winter or early spring, when elections are safely over and the honeymoon’s usually still on.

These are not signs for any candidate, anyway. They’re signs of hope. Springtime signs. “Hate has no home here,” they say, in six languages — English, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Korean, and Urdu. (Five of those six languages — all except Urdu — are spoken in Teaneck.)

The signs’ presence in Teaneck, and now in surrounding towns, is the work of Teaneck Women Together, a subgroup of Teaneck Together. “The group was formed as a reaction to the hatred and racism that we as a group saw after the inauguration,” Shira Weiss, one of its leaders, said. The group — first called Teaneck Together and created quickly, largely on social media — was formed “by a group of women, and we are doing most of the work,” she said, so the decision to brand the smaller group as Teaneck Women Together was “to make sure that it was clear.”

The group’s first public effort, a rapidly called together rally in response to the administration’s first, now newly rewritten and re-imposed attempt at immigration control, startled and pleased its creators by drawing more than 300 people, men and women, Jews, Muslim, and Christians.

Teaneck is a diverse place, Ms. Weiss said. “It is populated by people of all races, religions, and cultures.” Similarly, Teaneck Women Together is made up of “Orthodox Jewish women who are working with Muslim women.”

The signs “are to express the message that Teaneck welcomes inclusivity,” she said. “Any messages of hate are not representative of us. If you’d see our group together, you’d see that we are Jewish women, Muslim women, black, white, and Asian women. We all have a dialogue with each other. We are supporting each other. We understand each other’s fears.”

The signs are not at all an indictment of most of President Trump’s supporters, she said. “We know that there are many Teaneck residents who support him and do not say anything that is hateful. But this group was formed by people who were upset by the hateful things that were said, and wanted to show solidarity against them.”

Showing solidarity, she continued, turns out to be a positive thing. “Just by having conversations with people I never would have talked to before, I know so much more now than I knew growing up,” she said. “I grew up in Riverdale, and my family always was very liberal and open-minded, but because I went to all-Jewish schools, I didn’t know people of other religions — and now I have a Muslim best friend.

“My Muslim friends and I talk about the similarities in our cultures,” Ms. Weiss said. “We have talked about being single and dating, and about the pressures from our parents. There are so many similarities that I really didn’t know about between Judaism and Islam.”

Aja Cohen is another member of Teaneck Women Together’s leadership. She thought of getting the signs, she said, because although she was a child then, and her memories are a bit fuzzy, she remembers the yellow ribbons that people tied around trees in their yards during the war in Iraq; ribbons that first appeared, well before her time, when Iran held Americans prisoner. “I thought it was a great idea,” she said. “We should have something to say ‘I’m looking out for you, and you’re looking out for me.’ And then I saw the signs on line, and I thought, ‘Oh wow, that’s awesome. I love it.’”

The signs have an American flag and a heart on them, and they come with either blue or red backgrounds, she said; the colors themselves represent both the divide in which we find ourselves and a possible way to bridge the gap.

On Sunday, Teaneck Women Together sold its first batch of signs at the town’s Ethical Culture Society headquarters. “We had the whole gamut of people there,” Ms. Cohen said. “Mixed race people, a really frum-looking girl, African-American families, white families, a gay family. Jewish families, Muslim families, Christian families.”

She’s gotten addresses from the people who’ve bought signs, and she has learned that people have come from all over Teaneck.

And then there were the people who couldn’t be there. “I’m getting a ton of emails” from people who want to buy signs, Ms. Cohen said.

She’s learned a lesson that she knew in the abstract but finds more compelling in the flesh. “You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you can’t judge people by what they look like,” she said. “Everybody may look one way, but they can be different. People don’t always act or think the way you think they will.”

Ms. Cohen has lived in Teaneck for about a year. She thought that she was moving to a Jewish bubble; she’s learned that outside that bubble is diversity, and she can have both. Teaneck Women Together “is also a social thing,” she said. It’s full of women from a range of ages as well as backgrounds and cultures, but with shared interests.

Ms. Cohen and Ms. Weiss agree that there is something good that has come out of the grim mood that has gripped the country. “It’s a really nice silver lining,” Ms. Cohen said. “It’s forcing you to be open, to think about things for yourself, to question things that we’ve always taken for granted. It’s been nice.”

To get a lawn sign, email Aja Cohen at ajacalvitti@gmail or go to Facebook @ Teaneck Together or Teaneck Women Together.

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