John 3:16 is Gone from Teaneck

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life
-John 3:16

By early July everyone on our quiet Teaneck street had noticed the lawn sign in front of the tidy yellow house in the middle of our block. It said - John 3:16 - in big black letters on a white background.

The sign appeared about the time that Rev. Billy Graham came to the city for his big event at the end of June. Of the twelve houses on our one street, eight are occupied by Orthodox Jewish families. We said nothing to each other or to our Christian neighbor at first because we assumed this was a short term passing display put up in the fervor of the Graham crusade.

We were wrong. After more than a month, we started talking to each other. What should we do? Did we want to constantly be confronted by an allusion to a verse that insinuates that we Jews - who obviously do not believe in Jesus - will not have eternal life; that we will perish?

Vigilante-like, after more than a month, I finally took it upon myself to act. One fine sunny day in August I saw our neighbor working on her lawn and I sauntered across the street to make small talk. In that context I ask casually about the sign. "What is this sign all about?" "I want to spark interest and conversation," she said in her own defense. "When will you be taking it down?" I asked, in what I thought then was a not-so-subtle hint.

The sign stayed up. My hinting was unsuccessful. About a week later, in a burst of nearly adolescent enthusiasm I devised a new strategy. I printed - Deuteronomy 6:4 - on a manila folder and posted it on our front lawn. Our Orthodox neighbors saw my foolish display and smiled. Our Christian friend was away for the weekend and did not see it. I took down my sign.

I decided that clearly I was too casual in my approach to our gentile neighbor the first time around. And my neighbor was too fervent in her faith to sense my intent. In late September, as Rosh Hashanah approached, the sign was still up.

I knew that we Orthodox residents were all growing increasingly weary at having to come home to this overtly Christian missionary message each night and to have our children play in its shadow. Accordingly I prepared for strategy number three.

I researched the Teaneck ordinances online and found that lawn signs are tightly controlled in our locale, limited to 30 days. Violation of the town ordinance could result in a fine of $200 or jail time. I printed this ordinance and made preparation for another foray.

The opportunity did not come until the day of Rosh Hashanah. I came home from synagogue and our neighbor was again working on her landscaping. I retrieved the printed page from my desk and came out to speak to her. This time I walked deliberately over and asked straight out, "How are you? Fine. Would you please take down your sign?"

Naturally she was slightly taken aback by my directness. I explained that I knew that we neighbors were not pleased that the sign had been up for so long. I told her that I spoke only for myself, that to me the sign was confrontational - especially because I understood the theological implications of the verse - and that it made me uncomfortable. She said she'd "think about" taking it down.

At that point, I handed her the ordinance. I was polite but firm saying, "We don't put such lawn signs up in Teaneck as a rule. And now yours has been up for three months. It's against the law to keep it up on your lawn." I turned and went back across the street.

The sign was down by evening. I went to synagogue the next day and went up to one of my neighbors. "John is gone," I whispered. "I know," he replied. "Thanks."
Originally posted in 2005


Anonymous said...

Do you think it is fair to invoke your neighbors? They might not have loved the sign, but maybe they were in favor of maintaining harmony with this neighbor? Furthermore, if an ordinance is in violation of the first amendment, do you have any reason to demand her compliance with it?

Anonymous said...

as 1 of your neighbors, sigh, i wish you would have just left our nice christian neighbor out of the blogsphere.


the chick on the other block :)

(only used the anonymous login, cause i don't have the time to setup a login-did u hear i'm making aliyah & getting married?!)

Tzvee Zahavy said...

I'm clear about what transpired and my motives. I don't say that I acted on behalf of anyone else, nor did I. I also hesitated to blog about this. But after talking to several friends about the story, I felt it should be told. And, if other means of negotiation and discussion had failed, I would never call the town in on this.

No I didn't hear... Mazal tov.

Tzvee Zahavy said...

Also, I assure you that there is harmony with our neighbor now. No ill will was generated. That was the whole purpose of going step-by-step.

FreeCBY said...

Tzvi, you clearly have altogether too much time on your hands....

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the first poster meant "provoke," not "invoke."

My first instinct was to think about putting a poster that said "Numbers 23:19." Your way was just fine, though.

Hey, Freecby: me, too.