Bahai News - A Town That Champions Its Diversity
June 11, 2000
A Town That Champions Its Diversity
By JERRY CHESLOW
Teaneck's population is now about two-thirds white and a quarter black,
with Asian and Hispanic residents constituting the rest. The Jewish
community makes up about 40 percent of the population and accounts for
seven of the 40 houses of worship, which range from Bahai to
On Saturdays and Jewish holidays, the sidewalks of
Teaneck are congested with baby carriages, as Orthodox Jews wheel their
infants to services. Under normal circumstances, Jewish law prohibits
carrying on the Sabbath -- which technically includes wheeling -- except
inside an enclosure. Teaneck has signed a formal 20-year agreement,
which expires in 2012, under which the township grants the Jewish
community the right to consider the high-tension wires over two-thirds
of the township as an ''eruv,'' an enclosed area for religious
''I came to Teaneck because it reminded me of Toronto,''
said Lynda Kraar, a writer who describes herself as a former Canadian
and a nonpracticing Orthodox Jew. ''It's a place with a strong Jewish
community. It is safe for my children, and race is not an issue. On my
block, black children and Jewish children play together like all
Mrs. Kraar, who has moved three times in the
last five years -- all inside Teaneck -- currently lives in a converted
former Lutheran church, complete with stained-glass windows, on Queen
Anne Road, together with her husband, Martin, and two daughters.
According to Barbara Ostroth, a sales associate at the Coldwell Banker
brokerage on Teaneck Road, half of the township's housing stock was
built before World War II. The postwar houses are primarily Cape Cods,
split-levels and bilevels. There are also a few dozen three-bedroom
attached row houses built on Beverly Road for returning servicemen. Some
of Teaneck's architectural gems can be found on Standish Road, a street
of small fieldstone Tudors.
Last week, 90 houses were on the
market, starting at $129,000 for a small ''as is'' colonial on Robinson
Road near Route 4, which runs east-west, bisecting the town. The most
expensive house listed was an $800,000 rambling five-bedroom colonial on
Warwick Avenue in the West Englewood section, the most expensive area of
''Anything under $200,000 can sell within days,'' Ms.
Ostroth said. ''And if you are within walking distance to an Orthodox
synagogue or inside the eruv, you can usually get 5 percent more for the
Ms. Ostroth said that the market in Teaneck had been
''extremely hot'' over the last three years, with prices rising about 15
percent and many houses drawing multiple bids. She said, however, that
she was now seeing some cooling because of the recent rise in interest
THE township has four condominium complexes, the largest of
which is the Courts of Glenpointe, a 190-unit luxury development on
Degraw Avenue near the intersection of Interstates 80 and 95. Prices
range from about $190,000 for a one-bedroom flat to about $400,000 for a
three-story town house with an elevator.
There are also 1,940
rental apartments in 12 garden complexes. Rents range from $625 to $825
for a one-bedroom to $850 to $1,000 for a two-bedroom.
two supermarkets and five business districts, the largest being a
three-quarter-mile strip of Cedar Lane just west of the Paul A. Volcker
Municipal Green, named for the township's longtime manager and the
father of the former chairman of the Federal Reserve. The street has
gift shops specializing in Judaica, trendy boutiques, nail salons, banks
and discount stores. Among the best known of Cedar Lane's restaurants
are Bischoff's, an ice cream parlor and sandwich shop that opened in
1934; Noah's Ark, a glatt kosher deli; and Louie's Charcoal Pit, famous
for its chocolate pudding and rude waitresses.
school system starts with half-day prekindergarten and full-day
kindergarten classes at Bryant School. From there, students go on to any
of three elementary schools for grades one through four. The largest is
the Whittier School, with 492 students. There are two middle schools for
grades five through eight: Thomas Jefferson, with 771 students, and
Benjamin Franklin, with 574 students. Teaneck Senior High School has
1,450 students in the ninth through the 12th grades.
introduced in kindergarten, and each of the schools except Bryant has a
full-time computer studies teacher. In all of the elementary schools the
average class size exceeds the state average of 21.6, but in the high
school, the average class drops to 16.
On SAT tests last year,
Teaneck students had a combined average verbal and math score of 1007,
one point below the state average. To ensure that no ethnic group is
left behind, the school system keeps track of test scores by race. Last
year, Teaneck High's white seniors outscored their black counterparts by
163 points, a gap that Robert Copeland, deputy superintendent of
schools, called ''a matter of serious concern.''
To address the
issue, a mandatory ninth-grade course called Freshman Seminar is being
introduced in September to teach test-taking, study, research and
word-processing skills. The high school is also offering an elective SAT
preparation class. Teaneck High offers 12 advanced-placement courses in
computers, the sciences, English, mathematics and foreign languages.
Starting in September, the high school day will be restructured to
lengthen instruction periods from 68 to 85 minutes each, with students
taking eight courses over two days, a move that will allow for more
creative teaching, Mr. Copeland said.
The public school population
is 34 percent white, 42 percent black, 13 percent Hispanic and 10
percent Asian, reflecting the fact that many Jews send their children to
religious schools and other white families often opt for private
schools, a matter of concern for many residents.
''When you siphon
off a large section of the population, including many top students, the
community loses interest in the schools and that can lead to a downward
trend,'' said Theodora Lacey, a black science teacher at Thomas
Jefferson Middle School and a veteran of the 1965 struggle to integrate
The largest of the religious schools in Teaneck is the
220-student Torah Academy, a high school for boys on Queen Anne Road.
Mr. Copeland, the public school official, said: ''We will not give
up trying to accommodate the Jewish community as much as possible. We
are offering Hebrew as a language. This year, we offered kosher food in
our elementary schools and will extend that to the high school next
Yitz Stern, a township councilman and an Orthodox Jew, said
that Jews were not turning their backs on the public schools. ''While
many of my constituents send their children to religious schools, I
encourage them to remember that a strong school system is best for the
entire community,'' he said. Last year, the public school budget passed
overwhelmingly, with the support of all segments of the community.
Teaneck has 23 public parks, the largest of which is the 78-acre Milton
G. Votee Park on Queen Anne Road. It has three Little League fields, one
regulation-sized baseball diamond, four tennis courts, two lighted
soccer fields, two lighted basketball courts, two handball courts, a
band shell, an in-ground pool and a wading pool. It is also home to the
Richard Rodda Community Center, a multicolored masonry building with two
gymnasiums, meeting rooms, a dance floor and programs for the elderly.
IN addition, the 150-acre Overpeck Golf Course, owned by Bergen
County, is in Teaneck. An 18-hole round costs $14. Fairleigh Dickinson
University occupies 75 acres in Teaneck along the Hackensack border.
Many of its lectures, concerts, and theater productions are open to the
When the first Dutch colonists arrived in the mid-16th
century, Teaneck was a Leni Lenape Indian settlement ruled by the sachem
Oratam. A local history speculates that the name Teaneck may have been
derived from the Leni Lenape word for villages.
The most famous
early Teaneck resident was William Warren Phelps, a United States
representative and ambassador who owned a 15,000-acre estate, including
2,000 acres that now constitute about half of Teaneck. Phelps's
mansion, which burned to the ground in 1888, was on the site of the
current municipal building, at the corner of Teaneck Road and Cedar
Lane. After the fire, Phelps moved his family into a nearby mansion,
which eventually became the first building of Holy Name Hospital,
currently a modern hospital with 360 beds just across Cedar Lane from
the Municipal Green. In 1894, Phelps died of tuberculosis at the age of
54, a year before Teaneck's founding.
Passionate about trees,
Phelps estimated that he had planted 600,000 of them on his property by
1893. Many are still standing, giving Teaneck's streets their
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