I couldn’t think of a better way to introduce my community of Teaneck, New Jersey, to the blogosphere than with a recap of our town’s Fourth of July parade.
Teaneck is a New York City suburb only a few miles from the George Washington Bridge. Its diverse population has many nationalities and religions represented — white, black, South Asian, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. There is a large Orthodox-Jewish community as well as an African-American population, and Teaneck is one of the few American towns to boast a Muslim mayor, Mohammed Hameeduddin, elected to office in 2010. The deputy mayor, Adam Gussen, is an Orthodox Jew who grew up with Hameeduddin in Teaneck, where they together attended its public schools. The district, in fact, was the first in the nation to voluntarily integrate its schools through mandatory busing in 1965.
Yet despite the veneer of coexistence in our town, it is hardly a melting pot. The public schools are heavily black, the Jewish kids — including my own — largely attend yeshivot and day schools, and many neighborhoods are, for the most part, class and race segregated.
But there are a few moments where the whole community gets together, one being the Fourth of July parade. This was the first parade we not only viewed, but marched in, my eight-year-old son as a member of the Teaneck Baseball Organization, a de facto Jewish league that does not play games on Saturdays. (The other league, Teaneck Southern Baseball League, does, and the two leagues never play each other.) We had received multiple e-mails urging TBO members — which we were told had “dismal” representation in years past — to participate in the parade.
It wasn’t much better this year — only 15 or so of us showed up, including parents, to carry the TBO banner up Queen Anne Road. And there was a delay in getting our group to actually step off. But it was the waiting period that proved interesting as the day unfolded. An impromptu lemonade stand was set up by children of a local rabbi, attracting the attention of passers-by. I chatted with parents of kids in other athletic leagues. Other marchers passed by representing a slew of groups — Jewish War Veterans, the Teaneck town council and board of education, parents of the district’s special education students, a black fraternity, and Brownie and Cub Scout troops. It wasn’t all rosy and cheerful, either — one group held an “Out of Afghanistan” banner, its marchers carrying signs saying, “Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home Now!” Many of the groups threw candy at us, with the kids making a mad dash akin to that of a pre-wedding aufruf or bar mitzva — unsure if they were kosher but to be stashed away for later inspection by their parents.
When it was finally time for us to step out, we were given our own bags of (kosher) candy and ice pops to distribute, a welcome relief to parade- goers on a sizzling summer day. I watched with pride as my son excitedly threw sweets to children gathered on the sidewalks, only a few of whom we actually knew. With bands blaring “When the Saints Come Marching In” and “God Bless America,” it was truly a celebration of patriotism.
These moments may be few and far between, but I expect — through this blog — to document as many of them as possible — at least after I get back from a community fireworks celebration tonight.