Why I Brought My Children to Englewood’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March

I am constantly trying to have my young children engaged in the work that I do at the Simon Wiesenthal Center so that they grow up with a culture of social responsibility and activism. When they hear about Black History Month, I am proud to be able to show them how the Simon Wiesenthal Center has been holding Black History Month events for decades, and has exhibits, open to all, that celebrate human and civil rights leaders in all communities, communities that we can and must ally ourselves with as we continually articulate the reality that we cannot defeat anti-Semitism and all forms of hate, bigotry, and racism by ourselves.

A few weeks ago, I took three of my children on Englewood’s Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. March, which runs from City Hall to Ebenezer Baptist Church. While it is not the first time I have brought them, the marked difference was that this year we began marching from Congregation Ahavath Torah, and the walkers included a few dozen members of the Jewish community. The Jewish delegation, carrying an Israeli flag and led by local rabbinic leaders, was specifically designed to show that in a time of escalating anti-Semitic hate crimes in our region, our relationships with our neighbors, our historic civil and human rights allies, needs reinvigoration. The Jewish world cannot successfully combat anti-Semitism alone, and partnerships will not be genuine until we take the proactive steps to comprehend each other’s narratives.

We took an important step on this day.

Throughout the march, my 10-, 11-, and 13-year-old children asked why they had to march. How does marching help the Jewish community? What is the connection between Dr. King and the Jewish community? What is the difference between this march and the march over the Brooklyn bridge that one of my sons joined me for, just two weeks earlier? My children peppered me with an array of other questions, along with the occasional and expected comments that “My feet hurt!” “Are we almost there yet?” and “Can we get ice cream when we’re done?”

The point is the questions they asked would not have been posed had they not been marching, had activism and engagement not been impressed upon them. The questions, which were genuinely asked, provided the exact kind of teaching moments we so desperately need to educate our next generation on our collective and communal pathway forward.

Just a few days ago, Congregation Ahavath Torah held a forum on combatting hate and anti-Semitism. In in my capacity as the Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I was a panelist at that forum. More importantly, the synagogue’s community engagement committee had the foresight to ensure that some of the other panelists were African American leaders. They included Bergen County Sheriff and former Bergen County NAACP president Anthony Cureton, who stood by the Jewish community facing down the anti-Semitic ordinances forwarded in the municipality of Mahwah a year and a half ago. New York State Assembly member Walter Mosley also was there; Mr. Mosley has been a recognized leader in fighting anti-Semitism and supporting Israel, and he has made serious political sacrifices in order to provide that continued support. He discussed that support, and proudly said if given the chance he would do again. We can only build serious partnerships by hearing and listening to each other, and opportunities like this provide that forum.

The Wiesenthal Center led a forum the day after Englewood’s with the Central Jersey Jewish Public Affairs Committee in Highland Park. Once again, the background includes a governing body unable to pass an anti-BDS resolution, with some members claiming that they are not well versed enough about the issue. This comes on the heels of the community’s public library not understanding why it is inherently problematic to allow for a children’s book reading of “‘P’ is for Palestine,” which encourages and celebrates the violence of the intifada as a protest movement to be modeled — and to be done in one of the state’s significant Orthodox Jewish communities, at a time of rising violent attacks against Jews.
So let the questions be asked. Let us make sure we create the opportunities to ensure that they are properly answered. Let us encourage more teaching moments, so that we can effectively broaden the base of those fighting hate and anti-Semitism by our side.

About the Author
Michael Cohen currently serves as Eastern Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Mr. Cohen additionally serves on the Englewood, NJ City Council where he was recently elected to his third term. Mr. Cohen has previously held senior staff positions on Capitol Hill and in NYC and NYS governments for over 15 years. Mr. Cohen has also served as Director of Political and Strategic Affairs for a top NY lobbying firm.