(January 3, 2020 / JNS) A local NAACP leader in New Jersey slammed Chassidic Jews at a community forum earlier this week in the town of Montclair.
James Harris, chair of the education committee of the Montclair branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began his speech on Monday by saying that he was speaking as the chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators.
The local news site Tap Into Montclair first reported his remarks.
In Lakewood, Harris said that “the Jewish community controls the board of education and the city council, but they spend huge amounts of money sending their kids to the yeshivahs, and they’ve gutted the budget for the black and Latino students who are left in public schools.”
He continued, saying that “$15 million went for transportation to send the Jewish kids to the yeshivahs when they couldn’t get the additional funding for regular public schools.”
He then made a comparison to a budget deficit in Jersey City, where three people, two of them Chassidic Jews, were killed at a kosher supermarket on Dec. 10. He said he visited Jersey City after the tragedy, which he called “the unfortunate murder.”
“So, I go to Jersey City, and I’m walking down the street with the NAACP, and I see these folks in long black suits and curly locks,” he said, adding that the Chassidics “are generally not too interactive with anybody other than themselves.”
Harris went on to remark that people in Jersey City may be scared “because people remember Brooklyn and Lakewood.”
He said, “Are we going to be displaced by these people who are not all that friendly?”
“It just so happens that that section of Jersey City has murders every single week,” added Harris.
“Is there a situation where some lives are worth more than others’ lives,” he rhetorically asked. “Because I didn’t see the governor … hanging up there … when these other shootings go down, so I think that we have to have an honest conversation. Not only are all lives important, but the response to murder has to be just as intense.”
Harris went further to state that “incidents of bias have risen everywhere, but the No. 1 increase is race, the second is religion,” followed by incidents against the LGBT community.
He also spoke of poor people unable to afford to live in Montclair, citing a decrease in the number of students on free and reduced lunch. In terms of affordable housing, he claimed that residents feel “pressured by somebody.”
“The somebody is the developers,” said Harris. “Why are we feeling like the developers are taking over all major decisions in Montclair? We really have to have some honest conversation.”
‘We’re all supposed to be defending each other’
After he concluded his remarks, Harris received applause from some in the audience.
Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair condemned Harris. “I really am ashamed that there was an applause here, and there was not a single word to stand up, except for me,” he said.
“If you take the word ‘Chassidics’ out and replace the word with ‘blacks,’ this whole room would be in an uproar,” he added. “This whole room would be disgusted, outraged, offended and maybe some stuff would be happening in the school.”
Greenstein went on to say that “to generalize and to paint with that kind of broad brush a situation that is so much more painful and complicated is a sin.”
“Jews are not the problem. Chassidics are not the problem. They’re not your problem; they’re not the problem. There are many problems. There are bad people out there. They’re the problem. Insensitive people. They’re the problem. Crazy people are the problem.”
Greenstein remarked, “All of those things are true and guess what? We’re all people, all groups of people. But to start baiting the discussion to focus on Jews are buying, the Chassidics are not very nice or they don’t want to talk to other people is just plain sinful.”
“We’re all supposed to be defending each other,” he added. “Every single person in here is an ally.”
“So why does the conversation have to be hijacked to be into a way of talking that’s superficial, and full of half-truths and complete lies and all of that kind of really unhealthy stuff?” Greenstein asked rhetorically.
“Anguish, fear, anger … we all have to monitor that. Let’s recognize that calling groups of people with that type of superficial, stereotypical language is part of what has created the powerful injustice that everyone in this room knows so well,” he said. “You shouldn’t tolerate people with … credentials to tell us how to think … and helping us not think.”
Greenstein’s reply was met with applause.
JNS has reached out to the New Jersey Association of Black Educators to respond to Harris’s remarks since he spoke in his capacity at the group.
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