Fight Brews Over Eruvin in Jackson Township, N.J.

LAKEWOOD -
Eruv pole beside a basketball hoop.

A sudden uptick in enforcement of a Jackson ordinance forbidding placing objects on public property has left many of the town’s Orthodox residents suspicious that the move is intended to target the construction of eruvin.

In recent weeks, hundreds of violations have been issued, some for eruv poles and wires, but mostly to non-Jews who had basketball hoops, hockey nets, or other items on the sidewalks adjacent to their homes. Yet, many feel that Jackson’s actions are merely a masked effort to target the town’s rapidly growing Orthodox community.

The law restricting residents from placing objects in “the right of way” has been on the books in Jackson for decades, but residents say it was rarely if ever enforced.

“A couple of people put up private eruvin and the town started getting complaints based on ignorance of what they [eruvin] are, then they started ticketing, but when we asked how it’s different from basketball hoops, the township said ‘you’re right — they’ll have to come down, too,’” one Orthodox Jackson resident, who has been involved in issues surrounding the eruvin and asked not to be named, told Hamodia.

The resident said that a recent council meeting reflected both anti-eruv sentiments by some participants as well as reactions of many individuals who were upset about being forced to remove hoops and nets from sidewalks.

Hamodia’s requests to multiple Jackson Township officials for comment went unanswered. However, in an article in the Asbury Park Press, Mayor Michael Renia was quoted as having denied that the recent enforcement was connected to eruvin, citing the hiring of three new code enforcement officers as the cause.

“This is not something that popped up because the eruv wires came in. I think there were more complaints [about] basketball hoops than eruv wires,” he said. “Nobody is being specifically targeted, but you’re breaking a law that is on the books … It’s always been there. It was a sleeping giant.”

This past July, three groups approached the township for permission to build communal eruvin, which required placing lechis [posts] on some utility poles. They were asked to submit a diagram and explanation of plans, but received no response.

Seemingly in response, based on a technicality, the town council initially moved to rewrite the law regarding items in the public thoroughfare, removing a clause that allowed for exceptions to be made, but decided to hold off making a decision on the matter until its next public meeting, scheduled for September 12.

“If they pass it as is, it will basically make it impossible to make any community eruvin… we’ve told them that this will affect our quality of life, but they do not seem interested in being accommodating,” said the resident. He added that multiple overtures from the Orthodox community for dialogue with the mayor and town council have gone unanswered.

The right to construct eruvin has been a frequent and high-profile battlefield between expanding Orthodox communities and longtime residents. Extended legal fights in Tenafly, New Jersey, and Westhampton Beach in Long Island, N.Y., both ended in decisions that permitted eruvin to be built and cost townships a considerable amount in lawyer fees. In recent weeks, a fight over the construction of an eruv in Mahwah, New Jersey, a town bordering Monsey, has received wide media coverage.

Jackson is now home to roughly 500 Orthodox families, a spillover from the neighboring Lakewood community. This is not the first time town ordinances have become a point of contention between officials and the new residents. Last March, the town council approved a measure practically banning the construction of schools and dormitories, widely seen as a move aimed at pre-empting applications to build yeshivos or girls’ schools.

“This [laws affecting eruvin] is yet another very thinly veiled effort from the town council to make sure frum residents do not feel welcome in Jackson,” Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey director, told Hamodia. “It’s part of a continuous pattern that affects the quality of life of a large and growing constituency.”

Nevertheless, the resident said that the Orthodox population does not feel animus on a daily basis.

“Regular folks get along very well; we get along with our neighbors,” he said. “The self-appointed watchdogs who make these complaints mostly come from areas where no frum Jews live. I don’t think that most people have issues with us, but the council seems to be afraid of a few people who are stirring the pot.”