Last week, we saw an inexplicable contortion of American values at the Teaneck Board of Education. Those elected to represent us sat and listened politely as a known antisemite walked up to the microphone and espoused insane lies about Jews committing genocide in the Caribbean for 400 years, concluding, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free—by any [expletive deleted] means necessary.” Then, an elected member of the Board of Education shouted the same expletive at a local rabbi, who simply wanted to know if he would get a chance to share his views.
Hundreds had turned up to speak both for and against Teaneck High School’s Nov. 29 anti-Israel “walkout.” On Dec. 13, the Teaneck Board of Education praised the students who walked out for exercising their right to freedom of speech. At the meeting, it listened politely as Rick Whilby, a speaker at the walkout and a known Englewood-based agitator who espouses antisemitic conspiracy theories, was allowed to speak uninterrupted for two of his allotted three minutes before his microphone was turned off and he was escorted out by Teaneck police. As he left, his words were applauded by many in the room.
As a result of the incident, Sebastian Rodriguez, the outgoing chairman of the Board of Education, told the assembled that it was clearly impossible for people to speak in a dignified manner, so no one else would be allowed to speak about the walkout. When one of our community’s rabbis, a veteran teacher, school principal and 40-year resident of Teaneck, approached the Board of Education’s table to ask them where or if he could send his comments, he was told to “get the [expletive deleted] away from the table.”
These are the elected members of our Teaneck Board of Education and they provided a forum for some of the most despicable displays of hate that the town has seen in decades. Foul words roll off their tongues like nothing, with no concept of the communal stature of the person they are cursing. What’s more, they don’t care.
When people curse at and prevent local rabbis from speaking while honoring antisemites by allowing them to spread defamatory lies, the message is clear. There is not even an attempt to conceal it.
The Teaneck Board of Education was proud to see its students parroting Hamas ideology at the walkout, pleased that their students were “standing up” for “Palestinian rights” while ignoring the Jewish babies, children, women and men who were murdered, maimed, dismembered, raped and taken hostage on Oct. 7.
The right to free speech does not extend to direct threats and incitement of violence through hate speech. Jewish students are being gaslit by their peers, told that “From the river to the sea” is not a call for genocide. Antisemitic students are still excluding and harassing Jews by using this well-known antisemitic trope. They maintain that it is not hate speech. This is a lie.
And then the Board of Education wonders why many of us don’t send our children to their schools.
The one glimmer of hope is that, for several board members, it was their last time on the dais. Sebastian Rodriguez did not seek reelection, which is likely why he felt free to show his true colors. We hope that the three incoming members of the Board of Education—Gerald Kirschenbaum, David Gruber and James Wolff—will work to repair the damage that the outgoing board has caused to all of Teaneck’s Jews.