Hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and pushed apart like everyone else by social distancing defensive measures, the residents of Teaneck came together on a conference call today to worship and close ranks across those fierce religious divides that have long plagued the planet.
The town has a long history of different groups living peacefully and self-governing within its six square miles, going back at least to the 1960s when Teaneck integrated its schools without a court order; and now, as they face the challenge of 294 confirmed cases of the virus and area hospitals on overload with dwindling resources, they’re leaning on a proud local tradition: faith itself, in many forms.
“We are a town of minorities, and I think it’s that way because everybody feels at home where no one is at home,” said Deputy Mayor Mark Schwartz, the political ally of Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin. “It’s one of thosse things where you’re so different, you become the same.
“No matter what God you pray to, we all need God right now,” added Schwartz, who spearheaded Sunday’s interfaith call, who also serves with the local ambulance corps. “For a long time, we operated with the idea that we weren’t supposed to bring God into government, but sadly over the last two years so many tragedies have happened, it’s crept in inevitably. Tragedies have brought us back together and religion is a kind of bond.”
The Muslim members of Town Hall give a nod to the Jewish traditions, and vice versa.
Local government is their shared secular temple – or mosque.
“The town shows that diversity is more than a word, but an idea as it relates specifically to diversity of religion,” said Schwartz. “It’s old to say so now, of course, but I hear it – ‘You guys are all the same? Yeah, tell that to the rest of the world.'”
Under siege, at the center of Bergen County’s COVID-19 crisis, Teaneck together is begging for more hospital equipment. The mayor continues to call for more masks, gowns and face shields for the health service workers on the front line of the scourge. And as they continue their counter attack, with shared informational conferencing across a spectrum of disciplines, 375 people got on the call earlier today for a service led by faith leaders from five different faith tradisions.
“We’ve had these services before, and when we talked about doing one this time, I thought, ‘great, where do we hold it?’ All the houses of worship are shut down,”said Schwartz.
The synagogues have been holding dial-in worship services. So they did a variation on that: reverends, rabbis, and imams engaged, and state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5) on the call.
They prayed for the dead.
They prayed for Teaneck.
They asked God to bless the living and lead them back from the horror of a disease that has overturned life in their town as elsewhere, but where they refuse to give in or give up, or abandon that tradition that binds them, diverse at its heart and at its heart American.
It wasn’t anything too new here, they insisted.
It was just how people from different faith traditions, but a shared sense of faith, handle crisis in Teaneck.