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New York - Agudath Israel Slaps NJ Township With Lawsuit Charging Religious Discrimination

Published on: May 10, 2017 12:56 PM
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New York - A New Jersey township that in recent years has suddenly found itself home to hundreds of Orthodox Jewish families is at the center of a federal lawsuit charging local officials with passing regulations that were deliberate acts of religious discrimination.

Because Toms River, located south of Lakewood, and Jackson Township, situated to the north, have a steady supply of affordable housing, they have become attractive options to those looking to live in the Lakewood area. 

Tensions have risen in both townships as some residents have publicly expressed their concerns about possible changes in the character of their communities and both towns enacted “no-knock” ordinances banning real estate agents from asking them if they want to sell their houses.

But two ordinances passed in mid-March by Jackson Township banning dormitories and restricting construction of schools to commercial zones have landed the township in court after being sued by Agudath Israel of America and WR Property of Jackson, New Jersey.

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The lawsuit was filed on May 8th in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey and alleges that Jackson Township officials have displayed a pattern of discriminating against Orthodox Jews and that the two recently passed ordinances were “clearly motivated by a desire to prevent Orthodox Jews from moving to Jackson.”

Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel of America, said that Jackson officials have long tried to push measures that would make the township less attractive to Orthodox Jews.

“First there was the no knock ordinance,” Rabbi Schnall told VIN News.  “Then they made a significant increase to the acreage needed in order to build a shul.  And when they were building low income housing, they specifically made one to two bedroom houses because it would hinder the ability of Orthodox Jews to move into these houses.”

Both the ban on dormitories and the new restrictions on school construction are in violation of the rights of Jackson’s Orthodox Jewish residents, alleges the lawsuit.  Rabbi Schnall noted that there are very few commercial properties left in Jackson where a school could be built under the new ordinance and that there is no reason why Jackson parents should have to bus their children to yeshivos in another town when they are legally entitled send their children to schools located within their own township.

“We are talking about residents of the town,” said Rabbi Schnall. “There are close to 1,000 Orthodox Jewish taxpayers in Jackson who have the right to live here and exercise their liberties as appropriate.”

A speech at the 2015 Agudah convention given by Agudah vice president Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz encouraging families to live financially stable lives by moving into areas on the outskirts of existing Jewish communities, like Jackson, was met by strong comments from Rob Nixon, president of the Jackson Town Council.

“He called it reprehensible and filed a claim against Rabbi Lefkowitz with the Justice Department and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office,” said Rabbi Schnall.

Both of those claims, which accused Rabbi Lefkowitz of “blockbusting,” were later dismissed without merit.

The Agudah lawsuit also alleges that township zoning board members described the Jewish community as “cockroaches” on social media and said that “Jackson is not prepared for the tsunami of orthodoxy that is mounting at the border.”

An initial vote on the recently enacted ordinances scheduled for March 1st was rescheduled after more than 200 members of the Orthodox Jewish community came to the hearing in order to express their opposition. According to Rabbi Schnall, hundreds of emails were sent to township officials after the hearing, asking for the opportunity to discuss the ordinances in question.

“People wanted to be able to have a meeting, discuss a possible compromise and find some common ground and a way to make things work,” said Rabbi Schnall.  “All of those emails went unanswered.”

Jackson mayor Michael Reina reportedly told several people that he would be happy to discuss the issues once a vote on the ordinances had been held.

“That is bogus,” said Rabbi Schnall. “The point was to talk before the vote. Once the ordinances were passed it was already too late.”

The ordinances were passed by unanimous vote on March 14th.  According to a report on NJ 101.5 (http://bit.ly/2qsaYUT),  Jackson Councilman Barry Calogero said that the ordinances had no religious bias but were merely intended to limit overdevelopment while preserving the township’s “suburban nature.”

The Agudah is seeking a judgment that would annual the ordinances and declare them unconstitutional and illegal, as well as nominal damages and legal fees.  The decision to take the matter to court was made only after all other options had been exhausted said Rabbi Schnall.

“We have tried to come to a diplomatic resolution but the township refused to come to the table with us,” said Rabbi Schnall. “What other options did we have left?”

Mayor Reina did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.



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Read Comments (8)  —  Post Yours »

1

 May 10, 2017 at 02:17 PM triumphinwhitehouse Says:

the Aguda is acting like the NAACP, Jackson and Toms River are suburban areas that don't want the disaster of Lakewood, with overcrowded roadsm schools and buildings just like in Monsey and KJ, New Square, it is not anti-Semitic to preserve a good quality of life. While the Aguda is doing this, Yidden in Brooklyn are being priced out by Chinese and Muslims. Aguda priorities please.

2

 May 10, 2017 at 02:44 PM Secular Says:

"1000 orthodox jewish taxpayers in Jackson"

Fake news.

3

 May 10, 2017 at 04:28 PM sane Says:

I imagine that there should be some sensitivity exhibited toward the residents who desire to maintain a quiet, suburban, sparsely populated, traffic free environment. Yes, there are people who are not willing to spend a half hour to travel two miles.

4

 May 10, 2017 at 05:13 PM Speaksoftly Says:

Very sad to note - we claim discrimination when others wish to protect a way of life, while some of us would exclude children from our yeshivas because their father may wear a colored shirt.

5

 May 10, 2017 at 05:45 PM Fakewood Says:

This is a clear message to those yeshivas who dicrimate and refuse to accept people who don't fit the schools image.

6

 May 10, 2017 at 07:52 PM Anonymous Says:

Those goyim in Jackson Township, NJ, are going to have to learn that we are not going to act like nice, quiet Jewish boys any longer. If they want to push us, we will shove back. Remember Yidden, what happened in Borough Park, in 2006, when the NYPD manhandled Mr. Schick, the owner of Schick's Bakery? A full scale riot nearly erupted, and thousands of Yidden came out onto the streets. The NYPD, under the command of that momzer Raymond Kelley (who is actually being considered to become the new Director of the FBI), sent the TPF and other goons into Borough Park, and treated the Jews, with brutality. They would not have acted the same way in an Italian neighborhood, or in a Black neighborhood.

7

 May 12, 2017 at 11:40 AM Mikeluvs43 Says:

Anonymous maybe has nothing to do with one's religion or the way the dress or how they look and had more to do with seeing that you guys run the towns you take over into the ground. Like lakewood, Ramapo to name 2 off the top of my head. Rather looking to have the states subsidize your guys way of life because you're bankrupting these towns with your way of life, why not change your way of life. Or not expect others to be happy about you coming in and rouining their way of life

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 May 12, 2017 at 01:39 PM Mikeluvs43 Says:

Reply to #6  
Anonymous Says:

Those goyim in Jackson Township, NJ, are going to have to learn that we are not going to act like nice, quiet Jewish boys any longer. If they want to push us, we will shove back. Remember Yidden, what happened in Borough Park, in 2006, when the NYPD manhandled Mr. Schick, the owner of Schick's Bakery? A full scale riot nearly erupted, and thousands of Yidden came out onto the streets. The NYPD, under the command of that momzer Raymond Kelley (who is actually being considered to become the new Director of the FBI), sent the TPF and other goons into Borough Park, and treated the Jews, with brutality. They would not have acted the same way in an Italian neighborhood, or in a Black neighborhood.

I have a comment below for you. And also to touch on 2006 in borough Park wasn't just Ray Kelly who stood by the officers, the Jewish mayor Bloomberg stood behind the police and so did most of the Jewish leaders in the community..

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