NJ says one town discriminates against Jews — is Jackson next?
JACKSON — Should other New Jersey towns have to worry about a lawsuit over their perceived opposition to the orthodox Jewish community?
Mahwah was hit with a suit from Attorney General Christopher Porrino over two recent ordinances that the state says illegally targeted the Jewish community from nearby New York.
Porrino compared Mahwah’s officials to the “1950s-era ‘white flight’ suburbanites who sought to keep African-Americans from moving into their neighborhoods." This lawsuit seeks the return of more than $3.4 million in state grants and an injunction blocking the ordinances.
One of Mahwah's ordinances limits the use of a public park to state residents. The second effectively bans the building of an eruv, a religious boundary made up of white plastic piping on utility poles that cross the border from heavily Orthodox Monsey, New York. The eruv allows orthodox Jews to carry items outside their home on the Sabbath.
Mahwah's Town Council meets Thursday night for the first time since the suit was filed. Mayor William Laforet told NJ.com he will meet with council members beforehand to talk about the suit. The mayor estimates the township could spend $10 million in legal fees fighting the lawsuit unless compromise can be reached on the ordinances.
“Our message to local officials in other towns who may be plotting to engage in similar attempts to illegally exclude, is the same: We will hold you accountable as well," Porrino said this week.
So the question remains — What other towns might be on the attorney general's radar?
Jackson's Township's council in September voted to update its township code to avoid confusion over a ban on objects placed on public property, amid controversy over an eruv in town. The new wording will be: “No person shall encumber or obstruct any street or public place with any article or thing whatsoever"
The ordinance did not mention eruvs, but many in the audience raised the issue.
“Instead of working with people from our community to figure things out, I felt like we have been getting attacked. Changing laws, changing ordinances, sending out summonses to hundreds of people about their basketball nets just in order so eruv can be banned,” David Prupas told the audience at the time.
Jackson also voted to ban dormitories in the township after a Jewish school's proposal to build in a new building.
Councilman Barry Calogero said the vote was not directed at a particular race or religion and was intended to preserve the township’s “suburban culture” and limit overdevelopment, according to an Asbury Park Press report at the time. But several residents mentioned concern over growth in Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community spilling over.
Jackson Mayor Michael Reina has not yet returned a message from New Jersey 101.5 seeking comment,
In a statement to the Lakewood Scoop, a group of Orthodox Jew businessmen and leaders known as the Lakewood Vaad said it was supportive of the suit and said it should put other communities on notice..
Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, a spokesman for the group, said the suit marked "a great day for upholding the civil and religious rights of all Americans, and a celebration of the values of justice, freedom and diversity this country stands for.".
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com.
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