(JNS) A local NAACP leader in New Jersey slammed Chassidic Jews at a community forum last week in the town of Montclair. James Harris, chair of the education committee of the Montclair branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), began his speech on Monday, Dec. 30, by saying that he was speaking as the chair of the New Jersey Association of Black Educators. In Lakewood, Harris said that “the Jewish community controls the board of education and the city council, but they spend huge amounts of money sending their kids to the yeshivahs, and they’ve gutted the budget for the black and Latino students who are left in public schools.” He continued, saying that “$15 million went for transportation to send the Jewish kids to the yeshivahs when they couldn’t get the additional funding for regular public schools.”
He then made a comparison to a budget deficit in Jersey City, where three people, two of them Chassidic Jews, were killed at a kosher supermarket on Dec. 10. He said he visited Jersey City after the tragedy, which he called “the unfortunate murder.” “So, I go to Jersey City, and I’m walking down the street with the NAACP, and I see these folks in long black suits and curly locks,” he said, adding that the Chassidics “are generally not too interactive with anybody other than themselves.” Harris went on to remark that people in Jersey City may be scared “because people remember Brooklyn and Lakewood.” He said, “Are we going to be displaced by these people who are not all that friendly?”
He also spoke of poor people unable to afford to live in Montclair, citing a decrease in the number of students on free and reduced lunch. In terms of affordable housing, he claimed that residents feel “pressured by somebody.”
“The somebody is the developers,” said Harris. “Why are we feeling like the developers are taking over all major decisions in Montclair? We really have to have some honest conversation.” After he concluded his remarks, Harris received applause from some in the audience.
Rabbi David Greenstein of Congregation Shomrei Emunah in Montclair condemned Harris. “I really am ashamed that there was an applause here, and there was not a single word to stand up, except for me,” he said. “If you take the word ‘Chassidics’ out and replace the word with ‘blacks,’ this whole room would be in an uproar,” he added. “This whole room would be disgusted, outraged, offended and maybe some stuff would be happening in the school.” Greenstein went on to say that “to generalize and to paint with that kind of broad brush a situation that is so much more painful and complicated is a sin.”