New Jersey. - The council of Jackson Township voted Wednesday night, December 13th, to reverse its ordinance that blocked the construction of the Eruv, and the council of Mahwah Township voted Thursday to rescind its ban on out of state residents from visiting its parks. Both townships are facing legal and public pressure regarding these issues.
This past summer, Jackson started enforcing a rule that prohibits attaching things to public utility poles. According to the local ordinance however, people were able to request exemptions from the rule; an exemption that would have been invoked to build an Eruv for the ever-growing Orthodox Jewish community of Jackson. To preempt this, the Township approved a resolution that removed the exemption.
In addition to its action against the Eruv, documents were recently uncovered by local activists showing Township officials targeting and surveilling prayer groups held at people’s homes Friday night. This action is potentially illegal and came after the Township adapted an ordinance effectively banning the construction of Yeshivas. Compounding the Township’s problems were bigoted statements on Social Media by local officials; causing two of them to resign over the last few months after those statements were highlighted by the above-mentioned activists.
Jackson’s action on Yeshivas and on the Eruv, was met with a lawsuit by the local community and Agudath Israel of America. On Wednesday, the Township voted 4-1 permitting the Eruv on public utility poles if approved by the utility company but the Township still bans stand alone poles used for the Eruv.
Meanwhile in Northerner New Jersey, the Township of Mahwah in Bergen county passed an ordinance in June banning out of state visitors from its parks, and the Township moved against the Eruv too. In late July, OJPAC noted that both those steps come at the same time and thus may indicate a discriminatory intent by local officials to target Orthodox Jews. OJPAC requested documents from the Township regarding the park and OJPAC also publicly asked that the New Jersey Attorney General should consider looking at the Township’s actions.
A week later, the AG subpoenaed records from the Township. In late September and in October, OJPAC published its findings in a series of reports in late September (here) and in October (here and here) chronologically the Township’s focus on the Jewish community on multiple issues. The AG announced his 9-point civil lawsuit against Mahwah two weeks later; a lawsuit which focused on the Township’s park and Eruv decisions.
For its meeting Thursday evening, the Township had on its agenda a reversal on the park ban which was on hold due to an order by the Bergen County Prosecutor. It was rescinded in a unanimous vote. The council also voted to reverse an ordinance which was introduced a few months ago that would have made it impossible to expand the Eruv. However, the Township had undertaken administrative steps in July to stop the expansion of the Eruv. It is unclear if those steps stay in force despite the reversal on the ordinance which was introduced later an revrsed Thursday.
“While we welcome a robust conversation about the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community, it is unacceptable for municipalities to discriminate against anyone,” said OJPAC co-founder Yossi Gestetner. “OJPAC will continue to work with those in media, in community coalitions and municipalities who seek honest dialogue and information regarding the Jewish community, but OJPAC will also counter those who advance a bigoted agenda.”
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