Holocaust Desecration in Englewood, New Jersey
Readers of my columns will be familiar with the utterly-fractious nature of the city of Englewood, New Jersey, and how it’s a microcosm of American dysfunction. We in New Jersey suffer the highest taxes for the worst services amid arguably the least-responsible elected officials in the country. New Jersey is rife with corruption and every year brings the usual reports of public officials sadly indicted or going to jail.
Still, perhaps because we’re masochists, we put up with it.
But what’s new is how a state with such a large Jewish population that just suffered the second worst murderous attack on Jews in American history — the December massacre in Jersey City — remains insensitive to the most important Jewish commemorations.
This Monday is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a particularly special year as it commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. There will be global commemorations all over the world — I will, God willing, be in Poland at the extermination camp for the solemn occasion — that is, except in Englewood, where instead of remembering the six million, the city’s Board of Adjustment has chosen that day, of all days, to schedule a zoning hearing for a Jewish day school seeking to build a gymnasium.
That’s right. Halfway across the world from Poland, the City of Englewood’s Board of Adjustment could not find any other date to stage a zoning hearing for a Jewish day school’s application to build a gym with a 180-car parking lot. I know about this hearing because I am directly affected by the application as the giant parking lot will be directly adjoining our backyard yard where our children and grandchildren play.
We’ve asked the city to show some decency and respect and move the hearing — which could be held on any day of even that very week — so that those who wish to show respect to the sacred memory of the six million and instead attend a Holocaust commemoration may do so. Thus far, the hearing’s date has not been changed.
The Moriah school, my next-door neighbor, wants me to believe that a 180-car parking lot right by the swing set and monkey bars of where my children and grandchildren are outside nearly every day will not adversely affect our quality of life. That children inhaling all these fumes and the family putting up with the all the noise would not be injurious to our health and sanity. Why Moriah would want to do this in a strictly-residential neighborhood, where the school will necessarily be constricted from carrying out so many of its fundamental educational functions, is beyond me.
Still, the last thing I want to do is oppose a school. But now the Board of Adjustment has scheduled a city hearing specifically for Jan. 27, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which will force parents to abandon Holocaust memorials on one of the most important days of commemoration since the genocide — the 75th anniversary — and go to a hearing about parking lots and a gym.
We’ve written to the Board as well as implored the Moriah school to simply move the date of the hearing. Why would the mayor and elected officials ever have allowed the hearing to go ahead on this solemn date in the first instance? Have they no decency?
Much more troubling, however, is Moriah’s refusal to change the date, saying the rabbis of the community, with whom they consult, saw no issue with a zoning hearing being held on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
You’ve got to be kidding. Or maybe not. Englewood has a history of trivializing the Holocaust in favor of construction projects.
Recall that about a year ago there was another hearing where the rabbis of our community — the same ones who seem to have greenlit this Monday’s hearing — actually invoked the Holocaust for a for-profit construction project for a wealthy donor to their shuls. Englewood is also the city where the rabbi who heads the Orthodox Union’s International Kashrut Division indeed went secretly to meet with the emir of Qatar, arguably the world’s foremost funder of terrorism against Israelis.
Why would the City of Englewood’s Board of Adjustment have scheduled a hearing about a zoning matter for a Jewish school on International Holocaust Remembrance Day? It shows an utter lack of respect for those who wish to remember the six million on this solemn occasion.
And why would the Moriah school, its board and its Rabbinic leadership ask its parents to come to a zooming hearing rather than either organize a Holocaust memorial event, attend one or at least not give them a conflict in attending one?
Moriah can choose any other date for its zoning hearing. What is certain is that it should not take place on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, when many will rightly wish to attend memorials for our martyred six million.
This is especially true in an age where, according to NBC News, more than one-fifth of miillenials have never heard of the Holocaust and, according to The Washington Post, an astounding two-thirds of millennials could not identify Auschwitz.
As we near a time when, God forbid, there will not be many living survivors to tell the story of the Shoah, every commemoration, every ceremony and every public event can educate the world about the greatest crime in history. This is a particular obligation for cities with large Jewish populations, Jewish day schools and elected officials who should not be so contemptuous as to take Jewish support for granted.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 33 books, including the upcoming ‘Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell.’
Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.