Despite over 200 members of the Orthodox community turning out to voice their opposition, an amendment that will effectively ban the construction of communal eruvin in Jackson was passed by a unanimous vote of its town council.
The measure affects an ordinance that prohibits residents from placing objects on public streets. The law has mostly gone unenforced, especially regarding areas directly adjacent to private homes, and allowed for exceptions to be granted.
In recent weeks, however, 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. Many feel that Jackson’s actions are merely a masked effort to target the town’s rapidly growing Orthodox community.
With Tuesday’s vote, the option of exceptions being granted has been taken off the table, leaving no legal recourse for those wanting to construct eruvin that cross property lines.
“It seems pretty obvious that this is just the latest way that some people in Jackson are trying to keep more Jews from moving here,” said one source involved in the situation who asked not to be named. “I don’t think that everyone on the council necessarily feels that way, but they seem a little lost between wanting to find some way to accommodate the frum population and a small, but very loud and militant, group that are not interested in anything they think could bring more Jews to Jackson.”
Over the course of the summer, three groups had approached the township for permission to build eruvin, which required placing lechis (posts) on some utility poles.
Seemingly in response, the town council announced plans to rewrite the law regarding items in the public thoroughfare, removing a clause that allowed for exceptions, which has now become law.
Hamodia’s requests to multiple Jackson Township officials for comment went unanswered.
In advance of Tuesday’s vote, activists in the Orthodox community consulted with Harav Shmuel Kamenetsky, shlita, who advised them to attend the council meeting en masse and respectfully let their position be known.
Several speakers addressed the council explaining their position that disallowing eruvin takes a serious toll on quality of life for Orthodox residents, especially those with young children or special medical needs. One mother mentioned that it was important that she carry an epiPen device when she walks her highly allergic daughter to locations that are any significant distance from their home.
Rabbi Avi Schnall, Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey director, said that, even though the large turnout did not produce its desired outcome, the presence of so many residents sent an “important message.”
“It tells them very clearly that the Orthodox community is an active and politically engaged group,” he told Hamodia.
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, NY, both ended in decisions that permitted eruvin to be built and cost townships a considerable amount in legal fees.
The official reason given for calling the vote was to update the law to conform to changes that were made in the town’s municipal government in 2006. Several council members said at the meeting that they were not closed to dialogue over allowing for exceptions in the future, but wanted first to bring the code up to date without attaching loopholes.
“It’s improper lawmaking. Before there can be a conversation on accommodations for anything, we need to get the law into its proper format,” Councilman Rob Nixon was quoted by Asbury Park Press upon casting his vote.
Sources say that given the wide dissatisfaction that many have voiced from the non-Jewish community about recent violations for nets and hoops, the council does intend to amend its latest decision in some form.
Nearby Toms River, which has also become home to an increasing number of Orthodox families, announced several weeks ago that the town did not see a legal basis to restrict the construction of eruvin.
Jackson is now home to roughly 500 Orthodox families, a spillover from the neighboring Lakewood community. This is not the first time that 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 schools geared for the Orthodox community.
Orthodox residents say that both regarding the dorm law and recent issues regarding eruvin, town officials have been non-responsive to offers of dialogue. Nevertheless, given the public statements of council members at Tuesday’s vote, Rabbi Schnall held out hope for change.
“We hope that [Jackson officials] will fulfill their statements and allow us to resolve these issues diplomatically,” he said. “We are discussing and strategizing what the next best steps to take are and we are pursuing different avenues. We hope that Jackson can find a way to allow for this unobtrusive accommodation which exists in cities and town throughout the United States.”