It took a mere six days for a group calling itself “Mahwah Strong” to amass 3,000 members from among the northeast New Jersey hamlet’s residents. The cause that rallied the citizenry was opposition to a local eruv.
Officials in Mahwah, Montvale and Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, have all called for the removal of the eruvin constructed in their towns.
Robert Ferguson, the creator of the Mahwah group, insists that all he wants is “for them to follow the law and stay within the bounds of the ordinances that exist.” The “them,” of course, are Orthodox Jews, and the ordinance is one that prohibits signs on utility poles.
No signs, however, were placed on utility poles, only unobtrusive 1-inch-wide plastic pipes that serve as lechis for the eruv. But for people determined to achieve a goal, legal creativity knows no bounds.
A more honest revelation of the eruv-opponents’ feelings lies in a petition posted by former Mahwah town Councilman John Roth, who closed the petition after it garnered 1,200 signatures and a host of “inappropriate” comments. It called for the eruv’s removal in order to “prevent further illegal incursions into our community.” An “incursion,” as a dictionary will clarify, is “a hostile invasion.”
A generous attempt to explain the use of that word here might take note of the fact that an influx of Orthodox Jews to a community will bring shuls and religious schools in its wake. A Mahwah resident identified only as Max asserted that “Young people who live in the district but go to religious schools that we are paying for, it’s not good for the community.”
What Max, though, doesn’t understand is that only limited public funds, available only for constricted purposes, can be accessed by nonpublic schools. And, more importantly, that students — be they Catholic, Jewish or Muslim, whether they are educated in public or private schools — are entitled to an education in America.
More revealing still of the real roots of the public anti-eruv sentiment are comments that have been made by members of the local populaces.
“They’re like locusts where they’ll just destroy… the fabric of a town,” was how one Mahwah resident expressed himself to a reporter for a New York radio station, WINS.
“Linda L.” posted that she wants “the quality of my neighborhood to remain in tact [sic]. I want to maintain a secular community.” Another, anonymous, New Jerseyan echoes that sentiment, adding that “I don’t want any religion thrown in my face.”
Other comments refer to Orthodox Jews as “nasty people” “terrorists” and “parasites.”
And, predictably, the ugly words were followed by ugly actions, like the ripping down of eruv piping. Mahwah Police are investigating.
Eruvin, of course, exist in countless communities across the country, including throughout New York City, Washington D.C and in at least 22 locations in New Jersey.
One, in Tenafly, was the subject of a six-year legal battle between the local government and the Tenafly Eruv Association, which sued the local Borough Council after it banned eruvin in 2000, on the grounds that they violated an ordinance like the one Mahwah is invoking, banning the posting of signs on utility poles.
A district court sided with the borough, but the decision was reversed by a higher court, which found that Tenafly officials had made exceptions, allowing signs on utility poles for local churches and lost pets, presumably not posted by Orthodox Jewish residents.&
Mahwah, Montvale and Upper Saddle River officials are apparently hoping for a different outcome in their cases. “Our elected responsibilities are to serve the public and enforce the laws,” Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet declared in a statement. Choosing not to acknowledge the prejudice-pachyderm in the room, the gross anti-Orthodox bias voiced by some of his fellow upstanding citizens, he asserted that the town’s opposition to the eruv “sends a very strong message to those who choose to violate our sign ordinances.” Very important, those sign ordinances.
Obviously, we hope that, as in the case of Tenafly, members of the current communities fighting the erection of eruvin will come to realize that Orthodox Jews in a country founded on religious freedom have precisely the same rights as they do to live where they wish, to educate their children as they deem proper and to seek to lawfully maintain their religious observances.
As Agudath Israel of America’s executive vice president Chaim Dovid Zwiebel wrote in a letter to Mr. Laforet, his township “should respect and accommodate the needs of its observant Jewish community, not give in to the haters.”
At the same time, though, the lesson implicit in the hatred stirred up by images of an “incursion” of visibly Jewish Jews should be taken to heart, and is particularly timely as we are about to observe Tishah B’Av: We remain, even in a country as wonderful as ours, in galus.