A quiet vacation day was shattered with midday reports spreading on social media of a man attacking Jews at a local kosher eatery on Christmas day.
Shortly before noon on December 25, the Teaneck Police Department received a call reporting an altercation inside of Sammy’s Bagels, located at 1439 Queen Anne Road, in Teaneck. Sammy’s is a combination of three store fronts; it has pizza and bagel counters, with a made-to-order salad bar and an organic coffee and beverage bar between the two. Because of its variety of offerings, it is busy from early morning until evening. It was full of patrons grabbing a quick lunch or a takeout pizza on the day in question.
Jerry Dargan, Jewish Federation’s director for Jewish community security, told The Jewish Link “It appears that a mentally unstable individual entered the store demonstrating some threatening behavior.”
According to a release later in the afternoon by Township Manager Dean Kazinci and Police Chief Glenn O’Reilly: “The preliminary investigation revealed that this person entered the store and confronted two patrons. He engaged in a verbal dispute with the first patron by using an expletive while telling him to take off his hat. He confronted a second patron inside the store using the same language. This second confrontation turned into a shoving match at which time the patron received a scratch to his face. When the suspect exited the store, he made his way to Palisade Avenue where he confronted a third individual. Again, he made the same comment.”
A Yeshiva World News report indicated that the man shouted something like, “the Jews killed my god.” Other witnesses reported that the assailant said, “Take off your effing hat,” using the expletive. Additional eyewitness reports were still forthcoming at press time.
Three victims were treated on the scene for facial trauma, and all were reportedly in good condition.
The suspect fled on foot. A patrol supervisor located the suspect near 1600 Palisade Avenue and recognized him from past encounters. The suspect was reportedly taken to a local hospital for evaluation.
According to the township manager and police chief, the investigation is ongoing and being treated as a bias incident. “Preliminarily, this appears to be an isolated incident. The township will not tolerate any acts of bias and will use all available resources to investigate and prosecute those responsible to the fullest extent of the law,” they told reporters.
Deputy mayor Mark (Mendy) Schwartz stated: “Not even 48 hours ago during my speech at Teaneck’s Chanukah lighting, I mentioned how hate is coming awfully close to home. Sadly just two days later it has hit home. We as Jews need to continue to be vigilant and we as a town need to make sure our residents are protected. I thank the police and especially the Town Manager and Police who responded on Christmas to immediately declare that this was a bias incident.”
The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey told The Jewish Link that they and the Anti-Defamation League are closely monitoring the situation and are committed to keeping our community safe. Federation CEO Jason Shames made the following statement: “We are hopeful for a quick resolution and grateful to law enforcement for their swift response. We continue to condemn all anti-Semitic, hate, and bias incidents and will work with community leaders, elected officials and law enforcement to ensure our safety.”
After this article went to press on Wednesday evening, December 25, news sources reported that after Teaneck police consulted with the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office, the incident would not be treated as a bias incident after all.
Teaneck Deputy Mayor Elie Katz express concern at this turn of events. "It is really ridiculous already that in the state of New Jersey, the bias crime laws are either so weak or convoluted that the bar seems to be impossible to reach. Not sure what it will take for our state legislators to address this. I am sure they are all working very hard but as bias incidents continue to rise in the U.S., it would seem that one of the ways to combat them would be to first call them for what they are, and then prosecute accordingly," Katz told The Jewish Link.
Deputy Mayor Mark (Mendy) Schwartz, who is also The Jewish Link's co-publisher, said he did not consider the issue resolved. "This matter is still open and under review by various agencies, with the investigation still ongoing today. Based on my own review and conversation with witnesses, anything absent a finding of bias, following on the steps of the water gun incident, calls for a review by the Attorney General."