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Rutherford rabbi turns firebomb into seeds of love

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

AN OFFICER WRITES: The coward who firebombed the home of Rabbi Rosson Schuman and his family failed to produce the terror, silence or cries for vengeance that such incendiary devices are meant for. No. The hateful act offered the Rutherford rabbi an opportunity to deliver a message that is as important now as ever.

Rabbi Rosson Schulman at interfaith gathering

Yes, the attack failed because of Rabbi Schuman’s quick reactions, saving his family and minimizing the damage from a Molotov cocktail thrown through his second-floor window in the middle of the night.

It failed because of the immediate response of Rutherford’s EMS and police to Congregation Beth El, and because so many people came together as one to surround the rabbi and his family, shielding them from further harm.

More importantly, it failed because of the public stance the Schumans took in the aftermath, and the effect that their words and deeds had on people like me.

For many of us, the immediate reaction would have been to scream for vengeance. Instead, Rabbi Schuman called for peace, for understanding. While expressing hope that justice will prevail against such bigotry, he emphasized the opportunity for all of us to learn – and grow.

His was an unmistakable message: If not me, then who?

Fair Lawn Police Sgt. Richard E. Schultz



On the surface, this was a bias attack on a Jew. But it was also an attack upon a man and his family, a man and his faith, based purely on hate and ignorance.  For those who have religious faith, this was an attack on a child of God — and, therefore, an attack on all who are His children.

In the face of such hatred, Rabbi Schuman remained strong and inspiring, organizing an interfaith gathering on the campus of Felician College in Rutherford.

Learning of the event, I recalled the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Returning hate for hate multiples hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.  Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.”

I went to my Chief of Police. I explained how I felt, how my heart ached when I heard of the firebombing and how inspired I was by Rabbi Schuman’s response.

I told him important it was for me as a citizen, a resident of this county and a member of the law enforcement community, to be there, to represent not only the town in which I serve, but also my chosen profession, to offer up a model for my own children to emulate and to lend emotional support to a family of innocents. If not me, then who?

I got to the gymnasium early, not knowing what to expect.  Would this service be small or would the place be overflowing?  I deliberately wore my uniform, a man looking to offer peace with the one hand and, if that fails, the certainty of justice with the other.

That is to say: I came with conflicting emotions.

I am peaceful by nature. But I am forceful when required by duty. I have sworn myself to uphold the law, to protect the innocent and to speak for those unable to speak for themselves, and I will do so whenever necessary.

Security was tight but not restricted. The officers I spoke with seemed pleased to be there – and not because they were making OT, either. I sat next to Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino. We may have been the only two people in uniform not there on security detail.

At first, I was disappointed that the crowd wasn’t going to fill the hall. But I soon realized it wasn’t the size of the event that mattered. It was the love and strength of those whose words and actions said: If not us, then who?

The purpose, according to Rabbi Schuman, was not to provide a platform for the politicians who attended to pontificate, nor for the clergy of the various denominations to preach. Rather, he cleared ground for the community to bond, to heal, to share our hopes for a better tomorrow.

Amazing.

Here’s a man whose loved ones were terrorized out of their beds in the dead of night, and he was talking about peace, love and hope.

That held strength for the family, Mrs. Schuman told us: It turned out the previous owner one night found a burning cross on his lawn.

The rabbi’s father then talked of the great Civil Rights marches of the Sixties and the words written by Dr. King in his letter from a Birmingham jail. Paraphrasing the slain clergyman, he reminded us that coming together in this way keeps evil from silencing good.

If you didn’t know how profound those words were, all you had to do was catch a glimpse of his young granddaughter as she danced in place, singing with a smile the songs of her faith. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know the lyrics. Sitting there watching the sweet innocence of youth, as her father played guitar, touched the father in me.

Then came another moment: After speaking, Imam Mohammad Qatanani of the Islamic Center of Passaic County approached Rabbi Schuman. They each pulled the other close in an embrace that was neither staged nor awkward. Again, I felt something move in my heart. Fitting, I thought, that this took place around the same time of year that Dr. King is honored.

Schuman succeeded where his assailant failed. The rabbi turned the attack around as quickly as he extinguished the fire. Sitting there, you could feel the sense of security that only a true community can provide.

People spoke, prayed and sang in full voice. It helped that one of Felician nuns totally rocked the house after taking Schuman’s guitar. It was yet another moment among many, beginning with a letter from the Archbishop of Newark.

In the end, a single vicious attack brought all of us together, not as a mob, hungry for vengeance, but as members of one family – the children of God.

I was proud to have been there, to have represented my community, my profession, my department and my family. I was grateful for the changes I felt stirring within.

A coward may have tossed a bomb through a window. But Rabbi Schuman transformed the hate it carried into the seeds of love, of compassion, and of hope.


Also by the author:

Police Unity Tour 2011: Doing for Others

AN OFFICER’S JOURNAL : Police Unity Tour 2011 was passing through a stretch of back-country Maryland when a dog bolted from a family watching the parade of cyclists. Fair Lawn Sgt. Richard Schultz — the chief motor escort — zoomed after her as she dashed toward oncoming traffic. It became one of the more touching moments of the 320-mile trip, chronicled here by the sergeant…. READ MORE….



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