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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Teaneck residents Jen and Aaron Hoffer didn’t expect themselves to come face to face with anti-Israel protesters last Sunday, but then again, the day was full of surprises.

The home of the Hoffer family and those of many other Jewish community members are situated near Congregation Beth Shalom, whose main entrance is on Rugby Road in Teaneck. However, because the synagogue’s mailing address is on Maitland Ave around the corner, a group of anti-Israel protesters called “Deir Yassin Remembered” applied for a permit to protest on that street, not knowing that the entrance to the Beth Shalom building, where an event for the American Friends of Magen David Adom was taking place, was actually around the corner.

About a dozen people, some waving the Palestinian flag and chanting “Free Palestine!” and “1-2-3-4-Israel no more,” appeared Sunday on the sidewalks closest to homes of two Jewish families, disrupting their day. The protesters held hand-drawn signs that said “Israel killed babies,” “Stop killing Gaza’s children” and “When do we Jews notice that Israel is a terrorist state?”

Several of the protesters told the press or other local residents that they objected to local politicians’ support of the American Friends of Magen David Adom event, but Deputy Mayor Elie Katz shared that no town funds were used to promote the event, that this is a breakfast that he and his wife, Esther, hold annually and that it hasn’t drawn protests before.

The Hoffers, for their part, strenuously objected to the characterization of Israel as a terrorist state, and felt that even a beginner’s knowledge of history would suffice to contradict the protesters’ messages about Gaza or babies. The messages were particularly contradictory because Magen David Adom, the organization the protesters purported to object to, is an emergency medical services organization that frequently treats Palestinians, as well as all Israeli residents, experiencing emergencies of all types.

Ambulances and emergency medical services, in short, are not particularly controversial. But the Hoffers could not just go about their day; they felt spurred to action.

“My neighbor Dana Becker called me and said we have to do something,” said Jen Hoffer, who also works at The Jewish Link as production editor. “We decided a lemonade stand to raise money for Magen David Adom would be the perfect response to this protest that was taking place literally on our front lawn.”

“My 12-year-old daughter, Dalia, and my husband, Aaron, were setting up a table for lemonade, and the protesters started yelling at us, saying that it’s Ramadan and we shouldn’t be putting out drinks in front of them. We reminded them that they should not be standing on our private property.”

“It felt important to us to show our children that, though we are living in America, it’s our job to stand up for Israel. This time the opportunity presented itself, literally, right in front of our house, but I hope that they will learn to seek out opportunities to support the Jewish community whenever it is defamed,” she said.

Hoffer explained that she put the word out on social media and people started showing up. They bought food and drinks, and they started singing Israeli songs. Another community resident, Eric Kessler, hooked up his cell phone to the Hoffer family’s car speaker and they started blasting Jewish music from the car. “People were waving Israeli flags; the counter-protest very quickly outnumbered the protest, and lasted long after the protesters left. Long after we had run out of lemonade, people were still coming out to support Israel,” Hoffer said.

“We were blown away by the community’s response. We raised $1,100 at the stand and another $300 on Facebook, and we’re presenting a check to Magen David Adom this week,” said Hoffer.

Local residents were happy with how the day concluded: “Thank you for giving us an avenue to respond in confidence and in grace,” said Tally Angster, a commenter on Teaneck/Bergenfield Jewish Moms, a Facebook page.

“Poetic justice at its best! Magen David Adom provides services to all people, including Jews, Christians and Palestinians! Anyone who wants peace should be in favor of this. We came out stronger with a beautiful and productive mission,” said P’nina Seplowitz, another Maitland Avenue resident.

Perhaps Aaron Hoffer said it best: “We hear from our rabbis in shul and educators in our kids’ schools how it is important to stand up and support Israel. As an observant Jew living in Teaneck, we are often sheltered from direct interactions with protesters. When the opportunity arose that these protesters were literally on the sidewalk in front of our house, our decision was an easy one. Hopefully, we not only raised close to $1,500 for Magen Dovid Adom but also taught our children how to react to such a situation,” he said.

By Elizabeth Kratz