Teaneck Blog

Casting a wary eye on Teaneck politics and municipal affairs

Monday, February 19, 2007

What's wrong with the Applebome article

It seems like no big deal. A short piece in the Sunday New York Times sketching out the current state of affairs in a suburban New Jersey town. To most of us in Teaneck, especially those of us interested enough in local affairs to keep abreast of the latest developments by attending public meetings, reading the local papers, and opining upon them in the blogosphere, there was nothing new whatsoever in that piece. We may disagree with certain characterizations or believe certain things should have been phrased differently, but for the most part, we recognize the sentiments expressed in that article as a fair reflection of the way people think. So why is it that the publication of this piece will probably shake up the Teaneck landscape more than any controversy in the Council chambers or debate before the Planning Board?

The simplest explanation is that an article in the New York Times escalates everything to a whole new level. Now our friends, relatives, and co-workers from elsewhere in the area are privy to our internal debates. While one might let an unfavorable mention in the local news section of the Record go unanswered, a flood of angry and/or supportive letters is sure to follow a Times article as residents battle over how the paper of record should present our town to our neighbors in the region. One such letter, attributed to Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of the Orthodox synagogue Congregation Bnai Yeshurun on West Englewood Ave., has already been circulated through the blogosphere. Many more are sure to follow, on the Internet and in print.

What is it that is likely to arouse the most indignation? Quite simply, it is the author's conflation of the debate over development with the rise in the Orthodox Jewish population of Teaneck and the recent electoral success of a number of candidates from that community. While Mayor Katz and Sen. Weinberg were quoted disputing the linkage between the two, the majority of the article pointed in the direction of the conclusion that the changing socio-religious demographics explain the current tensions over development in town.

There is, of course, an obvious explanation as to why this conclusion appeals enormously to the staff of the New York Times. Having already covered on a number of occasions the fallout from the transformation of the Lawrence (Long Island) school district after a number of board seats were won by Orthodox Jewish candidates and having also written about a similar story involving a growing population of Orthodox Jews in Lakewood, NJ, they must feel that they have identified a trend. If the current climate in Teaneck can be viewed through the same lens, then they would really be onto something. That is not to suggest that there is anything sinister or suspect about the Times' approach; we all have a tendency to seek confirming evidence for our views, and a corresponding tendency to ignore or overlook that which contradicts them.

Unfortunately, in this case, the Times has got it wrong. While fights over school funding elsewhere (and perhaps here, too) certainly do have a religious dimension to them, as religious
communities do not use the public schools for primarily religious reasons, the difference of opinion over development in and around Teaneck's business districts is not the same thing. I have argued elsewhere that one could view the struggle in generational terms, but one need not view it that way either. While the major personalities involved seem to fall more neatly into those categories than they do into religious ones, and it is logical to think that younger families with greater financial obligations and less nostalgia for Teaneck's past history may be more interested in reducing taxes than they are in aesthetics, that view is not obligatory either. In fact, there is no need to try to classify this current disagreement over the direction of our business districts as anything but a political one that involves only a small part of the town's population on either side of it.

Has the impact of the Orthodox Jewish community's growth in numbers and influence been felt in Teaneck? Yes, it certainly has. Do some longtime residents feel somewhat discomfited by the changing face of Teaneck? Yes, they certainly do. Are these topics themselves worthy of an article in the New York Times? No, they're not, but if you can find a way to link current events to those feelings that surely brew under the surface of many suburban towns, then you've got an angle for an article. In this case, the author is guilty of trying too hard, and now we in Teaneck will have to deal with the consequences of that.


At 10:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The NYTimes!
Aahhh the NYTimes

The ownership urged FDR not to allow refugees disembark during WW2.

From the inside.

Pinch (or maybe Punch) ruled any Times employee referring to the Jewish roots would be relegated to the photo morgue in the basement.

Stalin was beloved even though he was openly anti-Semitic

There's more about the Times. Incidentally, Pinch noted it was no big deal if the Times stopped publishing a hard copy.

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Aahh the response...

At 8:13 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I thought the Applebome article was excellent. It pictures a town in transition with the outcome unknown, and the various tensions generated by interacting cultures. It is perhaps something that people would rather not confront, but I believe the tensions depicted by Applebome are real and that it is better to acknowledge them if they are to be examined at all.

At 8:15 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

Although the Applebome article is disturbing for us all, it is important for the truth about multi-cultural tensions to be aired in public, so that we can begin a constructive conversation about how different groups can work together in greater harmony in Teaneck. The issues he writes about are well known, but kept silent, and we should not deny them. Denial never fixed a problem.

At 10:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The council still seems to think so.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger Teaneck Blog said...

Yes, the feelings of victimization by a growing Orthodox populace described in the article are indeed real. I am not sure who you think is denying them- certainly the residents who spoke on the record to Applebome made no attempt to conceal these sentiments.

Of course, that does nothing to legitimate resentment directed at a particular group, nor does subtly injecting those tensions into an ongoing policy debate that does not break down along religious lines advance the cause of harmonious intra-community relations.

So, again, what exactly was it that was good about this article?

At 6:32 PM, Blogger Tom Abbott said...

What is right with the Applebome article:

"... we recognize the sentiments expressed in that article as a fair reflection of the way people think."

At 7:32 PM, Blogger Teaneck Blog said...

Yep, that's about it. Doesn't quite earn the label "excellent."

At 6:56 PM, Blogger PublicSchoolParent said...

I too think it was a very good article, precisely because it brought into the open the kinds of sentiments which are normally spoken only at the dinner table or among close friends. My only criticism is that the article was not long enough, that it only touched the surface of this complex issue.

I wish we had an Anna Deveare Smith to turn all these expressions of discontent into a play -- it would be riveting.

For example, it astonishes me how many people complain about the fact that on Saturday's, groups of Orthodox walk in the streets! For goodness sake, I walk in the street all the time because the sidewalks are so cockeyed! Not to mention that the sidewalks are so narrow that I can't walk together with my wife and kids. And, after all, it's not like our streets are major expressways. I find it kind of homey that people walk in the streets.

The article didn't mention another thing I hear people complaining about, that (on Saturday's once again) the Orthodox don't say hello when they pass on the street. I've heard several people complain about this. I think that some people need to grow up!

And I'll go out on a limb and bet that among the Orthodox, there is voiced the complaint that they are eyed suspiciously on Saturdays, that people don't even say hellow to them -- and that that non-observant Jews are the worst!!! Perhaps someone can tell me if I'm right about this.

At 9:56 AM, Anonymous makj said...

Publicschoolparent -- you are partially right, but the complaint is valid because I have experienced it. It goes both ways. The problem is with people who don't know each other living in the same neighborhood, either by choice, shyness, lack of common circles, etc. It is a problem, experienced by more than just non-Orthodox Jews. But I have also walked and been ignored by those who are of other persuasions, so my original point stands -- what does it hurt to smile and say "hello" when passing someone?

At 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a certain thing in most people that yearns for the "Good 'ol days".

I wonder if there were longtime Teaneck residents back in 1965 who yearned for the "Good 'ol days" when the Teaneck schools started to integrate. While I was not in Teaneck then, I'm sure there were - unfortunately - at least a few people who were not happy with the change. We may not know about them, since the blogsphere was not around in the "Good 'ol days," but you can be certain that there were some Teaneckers steaming in their houses at the spector of integration.

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