By: Yitzchok Schwarz
Ever since members of the frum community of Lakewood began spreading into Jackson, many of the local residents have made their feelings on the matter quite lucid: you’re not welcome here.
Those who moved in a few years back can surely recall the multiple “Jackson Strong” posters that once appeared on every other lawn. Until today, on a private front yard on Brewers Bridge Road, there’s a large, not-so-lovely sign that reads “Lakewood: Do Not Enter”. And that’s beside the innumerable accounts of anti-semitic slurs and offensive hand-motions that have been directed at innocent Jewish pedestrians and drivers.
But things got a whole lot uglier than that…
Multitudes of Jackson locals flooded the Township’s various email accounts with complaints about the “disease spreading from the east”, the “tsunami of orthodoxy mounting at the border”, and so on. In many cases, elected officials responded with abhorrent words of sympathy, including statements such as “we will not bend to the will of the mischievous Lakewood cult” and “we will do what we can to stop the scourge of cockroaches” and the like.
These complaints spanning from early 2015 until quite recently actually yielded considerable results. Many Jackson Township politicians, including Mayor Michael Reina, took several steps which were quite obviously intended to make religious Jewish life extremely difficult and uncomfortable within their borders. These included the establishment of new laws clearly targeted at minimizing the capabilities of Jews davening in a minyan, constructing Sukkos, opening Yeshivos, and erecting Eruvin. This kind of behavior went on for a while, including scores of surprise visits from government officials at private Jewish homes, as well as flyers being placed in neighborhoods dense with Jews notifying them of the updated laws banning front yard Sukkos and Eruvin.
However, this escalating cold war came to a standstill this past April, when New Jersey’s former Attorney General Gurbir Grewal filed a lawsuit against the Jackson Township and Mayor Reina for discriminating against the Orthodox Jewish community. The suit called out the politicians for allegedly “unlawfully discriminating on the basis of creed against residents and prospective residents who are Orthodox Jews.”
This sudden turn of events brought the undercover prevention campaign to a grinding halt. All of the new ordinances and changes of legal definitions that were itemized in the lawsuit as discriminatory were reverted to their original interpretations and guidelines, at least for as long as the case is open.
LNN spoke with some local askanim to get a glimpse of how things have been in recent times in regards to constructing an Eruv.
In one neighborhood, we discovered that there were relatively few complications to construct an Eruv, even during the height of the turbulence. “Our area is basically surrounded by power lines,” says Dovid R., who was heavily involved in developing the Eruv in the Brookwood 1 neighborhood. “We contacted JCP&L, the electricity company, and got them to sign a contract allowing us to place PVC pipes on the bottom of their poles. When we showed the township the contract, there was practically nothing they could do to stop us. We had to work with the police department as well because our work did include a few road closures, but aside from that, the process was pretty trouble-free.”
But in other places, the process seems to be a lot more complex. In the Flair neighborhood, for instance, the electricity runs underground, which necessitates the use of actual lechi poles. This complicates matters for two reasons: firstly, because they may now have to place poles and run lines over public property, forcing them to get involved with the township; and second, these Eruvin are more visible, potentially instigating the sometimes unfriendly locals. “At first, we emailed the township, asking them if we can put up the poles for religious purposes in certain public domains,” says Shimmy L., one of the Flair Eruv committee members. “This was after the lawsuit was filed, so we figured we wouldn’t meet any resistance. But they responded very vaguely, saying that we were requesting to do permanent construction on public property and that they would have to get back to us about it. That was months ago. We haven’t heard from them since.”
Eventually, they took matters into their own hands. “We tried putting up the lechai’im on private Jewish properties only, and when necessary, we knocked on doors of Non-Jews and politely explained the situation. Most of them agreed, but some chased us away angrily,” Shimmy explains. “In some cases, we placed them deep in the woods and out of sight, so as not to anger the residents. We were all but done a few weeks ago, but that’s when things started getting messy.” One of the locals—who actually does not live in Flair, but the edge of the neighborhood is visible from his backyard—began tearing down the strings. A quick google search led the committee to his Facebook page, making his views about the frum community very perspicuous. As it so happens, he is a member of the hateful group known as ‘Rise Up Ocean County’, and the frum community in Flair chose not to whip up any additional friction. “We were thinking of threatening him with a subpoena, but who knows what might come after that?” says Shimmy.
It is also worthwhile to note that there are a number of other factors that can render an Eruv in Jackson useless. As previously reported on LNN, the Royal Grove neighborhood has been experiencing serious issues with their Eruv, thanks to ongoing Verizon construction which was constantly resulting in their Eruv being torn down. Apparently, even if a neighborhood manages to avoid conflict and actually succeeds in erecting an Eruv, there are always things that can go wrong when the government isn’t officially backing it.
Evidently, even in the post-lawsuit era, it still is quite intricate to establish a fully functional community Eruv in Jackson—at least without sparking some form of confrontation, whether with the township or with the disgruntled neighbors. However, it seems that it’s definitely worth a shot, as various communities did manage to succeed in circumventing these skirmishes. Perhaps this is yet another reminder from Above that although we may have spacious homes and beautiful, sprawling lawns, we are still very far from home.
(As a side note: there currently is an Eruv in Jackson that covers most of these aforementioned areas, but it relies on certain leniencies, which has prompted a number of neighborhoods to seek their own individual Eruvin. The purpose of this article was not to discuss the acceptability of that specific Eruv, but rather to give an overview of the complications involved in erecting a localized community Eruv in Jackson)