June 11, 2000
A Town That Champions Its Diversity
By JERRY CHESLOWTeaneck'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 Unitarian.
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 purposes.
''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 children should.''
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 town.
''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 property.''
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 rates.
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.
Teaneck has 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.
The 4,500-student 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.
Computers are 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 schools.
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 year.''
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 public.
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 character.
©Copyright 2000, The New York Times Company