No, Lakewood PD is NOT ‘enlisted or expected’ to assist Orthodox Jews during Sabbath
On comes the onslaught of false and misleading statements regarding the Orthodox Jews in Lakewood, most of which I routinely ignore since I understand how difficult it is for people who live in that town or surrounding areas where people feel they are being "overrun."
I am experiencing the same with a community of foreign immigrants who have begun to flock to my town over a period of 15 or 20 years and know that change like this can be uncomfortable for people, particularly in the case of Lakewood where the changes are so strange and the people look so different from you.
I feel for the residents of Lakewood because it is so challenging in so many ways and there is no right answer, due to the sensitive nature of people's religious differences and how they affect others. I mean, I know many people would just love for them to "go back where they came from," but then they'd be kicked out of there, too. Trust me, we've been going through this for a few thousand years so it ain't new to us.
I can see both sides of the issues that emerge in Lakewood and surrounding areas, and have been vocal in defending both the Jews and non-Jews in different controversies that have cropped up. I usually ignore falsehoods regarding the Orthodox Jews because I know the religion is too complicated for most people to understand — I know, because I've been living it my whole life.
There are always falsehoods flying around and I usually just smile and shrug when I read or hear them. There is however, an issue that I need to address and clarify:
It involves an article that was published back in 2014 from one of the usual suspects, one of those media outlets that can NEVER see the other side (I'm not calling anti-semitism here, I'm just saying they are VERY consistent). In a piece from NJ.com, the writer, citing a published report, notes that because Orthodox Jews are not permitted to drive or use modern devices from sunset Friday until one hour after sunset on Saturday, police officers are "enlisted" to do things for them like going to drug stores to obtain medicine for sick children, or changing batteries in hearing aids. The article goes on to state that police officers have been asked to turn on heaters and air conditioners.
All of the above is true. The issue that I have is with the word "enlisted," which would imply that the officers are required to do this, or that it's a function of their jobs. Nothing could be further than the truth and no Orthodox Jew would ever demand this.
In fact, as an observant Jew myself, I, at times, was forced by circumstances to ask non-Jewish people to do favors like this for me (including police officers) and most have been accommodating if not eager to be of help.
The report also says officers are now more "culturally sensitive" to the unique needs of the most devout members of that religion."
Um.. wait.. isn't cultural sensitivity a good thing?
Local police officers aren't being "expected" to go into the homes of Orthodox Jews after sunset on Fridays to do things like change their thermostat settings because their religion dictates they aren’t allowed, as some think. Nor have they been "expected" to run errands to drug stores and change batteries in appliances and turn on air conditioners in the homes of Orthodox Jews during Sabbath, a common misconception.
I feel I have to correct this misrepresentation. No one is ever "expected" to do any of these things.
These are not just whims. There are no "running errands." They are asked and usually are happy to help if they have the time or the inclination, much the same way a cop would help you rescue a cat out of a tree or drive your drunk friend home from the bar in the old days.
In these ways, the Lakewood Police should be commended for being sensitive and helpful, the way it used to be in towns long ago. Some police officers will actually knock on the door of elderly religious Jews to see if they need such help. I'm sure they're not neglecting their jobs, foregoing a murder scene across town to do this.
Additionally, I'm pretty certain that Muslims, Christians, Buddhists or Seventh-day Adventists would get the same kindness extended to them. Regardless of whether or not they belonged to a burgeoning group within the community. The characterization that policemen are, being "turned into private servants" is unfair as they are not REQUIRED to do these tasks-- any more than a cop who is asked to help someone get into a car that has its keys locked inside it! (Guilty).
I know it's hard to imagine people from different religions going out of their way for each other like this, but the reality is (despite the negative spin some media choose to put on the situation), most people of all religions and varying ethnicities in Lakewood live in harmony.
And again, I don't expect anyone to understand this situation from the way it's been portrayed because it is quite complicated. But let me try to explain: requests for help with the lights, the heaters, etc. are pretty rare because our religion specifically forbids us to directly ask someone for this kind of help unless it's a dire situation. Even then, there's a specific way in which you must ask. So you can't just ask on a whim.
No one would ask someone to come crank up the heater a few notches, EVER. If someone asked for help with the heater, it would probably be because there's a newborn or an elderly or otherwise frail individual who is suffering in some way and someone forgot to put the heat on before the Sabbath.
According to our Jewish law, you have to be in a VERY difficult situation to even entertain the thought of asking. And, even if it were simple to ask, most Jews would think twice because of the exact type of criticism they're receiving here. Trust me, I've sat in enough dark rooms on Friday night or listened to my iPhone alarm go off all day Saturday because I forgot to shut it before sundown Friday to know this!
By virtue of these restrictions, this "enlisting" of cops to "do their bidding" doesn't happen very often. But I don't expect anyone to do the difficult research required to find these things out. I suppose it's just a better, more juicy, more newsworthy story to paint a hysterical picture of cops and public employees running around being "slaves" for those pesky Lakewood Jews.
I remember a time that cops in EVERY community were there to help in a variety of ways. In fact, in my town, they still are. But for those who misread, misinterpret or just simply have no clue as to what really goes on in Lakewood, or in other towns where devout people live, I'll just say this: There are some people that actually appreciate the goodness it brings out in others.
And as for people who think cops shouldn't be doing you "favors" like this? I think it goes a long way to foster important relationships between them and the communities they serve.
I hope people who would criticize Jews for asking a cop for a favor like this would do so sometime in their New Jersey towns. They're very likely to find that cops (or anyone) would go out of their way them, too. Religion, or not.
More from New Jersey 101.5: