By TALIA WIENER
An email from Montclair High School honoring American-born Israeli ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane offended community members who described Kahane as a “racist, violent terrorist.”
The school’s assistant principal followed up within hours of the May 10 email with an apology.
Kahane, who was assassinated in 1990, was honored in a daily announcement email sent to families, marking Jewish American Heritage Month. It described Kahane’s founding of the Jewish Defense League, a group that has been classified as a far-right terrorist group by the FBI since 2001 and is designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“[The Jewish Defense League] has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, and has engaged in intense harassment of foreign diplomats, Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders, and officials,” the SPLC writes on its website.
The MHS email said the group’s declared purpose was “to combat anti-Semitism in the public and private sectors of life in the United States.” It quoted Kahane saying the League was formed to “do the job that the Anti-Defamation League should do but doesn’t.”
Kahane was also founder of the Israeli political Kach party, which has been declared a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union, and has been outlawed in Israel since 1994. He’d previously served one term in Israel’s Knesset.
Monday afternoon, MHS Assistant Principal Reginald Clark sent a follow-up email, telling families “the information was in no way meant to harm or cause discontent among our community members.” He said he appreciated the “prompt response” and “letters of correction” he received after the email announcement.
“Moving forward, we will be sure to research in a more thorough manner all information disseminated to the community,” Clark said in the email.
Ponds on Tuesday sent his own apology for an email “that included information that was not researched or vetted properly.”
“Moments in history can be very painful, and we deeply regret this eblast. We are truly sorry for offending our families, staff, and community and thank those of you who reached out and expressed your feelings,” Ponds wrote. “The district will learn from this incident.”
Neither message explained how Kahane had been selected for the mention in the first place.
Clark, Ponds and Montclair High School Principal Jeffrey Freeman have not responded emails and phone messages sent May 11 to their district offices.
Congregation Shomrei Emunah Rabbi David Greenstein said Clark’s apology did “not seem to indicate any real understanding of what happened.”
“I believe the choice of Meir Kahane was atrocious,” Greenstein said. “The real mystery is who made this choice and what were they thinking?
Associate Rabbi and Director of Congregational Learning at Montclair synagogue Bnai Keshet Ariann Weitzman said she was “flabbergasted” when a congregant sent her the announcement email honoring Kahane. “He’s a terrorist,” Weitzman said. “To honor a racist, violent terrorist as a symbol of Jewish pride is confused to say the least.”
Weitzman said she forwarded the email along to other rabbis in the area and plans to contact Clark later this week to offer support for further learning.
“I don’t see this as anti-Semitic, I see this as just profoundly ignorant,” Weitzman said. “It points to the need for better awareness and better education.”