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Ocean County town updates its code — Is new law directed against Jews?

Audience at Tuesday night's Jackton Township Council meeting
Audience at Tuesday night’s Jackton Township Council meeting
(TheLakewoodScoop.com)

JACKSON  — Was Tuesday night’s vote on an ordinance directed at the Jewish community?

The purpose of the ordinance is to update township code to avoid confusion over a ban on objects placed on public property.  The new wording will be: “No person shall encumber or obstruct any street or public place with any article or thing whatsoever.”

PVC piping on a utility pole in Mahwah
PVC piping on a utility pole in Mahwah (Lauren Kidd Ferguson, Daily Voice of Mahwah)

Eruvim — or Jewish neighborhood boundaries that are in multiple communities across the state but have become a recent source of contention in several Bergen County municipalities — were not mentioned in the ordinance, but during discussion before the council vote the issue was brought up by residents.

Eruvim are symbolic boundaries installed where there are large Orthodox Jewish populations, allowing them to do things like carry keys, push strollers or carry groceries on the Sabbath and on Yom Kippur, when such activity is usually prohibited outside one’s home. They are made of string or wire enclosing the area. In many cases, the eruvim are made of PVC piping attached to utility poles.

David Prupas told the meeting, which was packed with residents in traditional Jewish garb, that he was upset and saddened at what he considers opposition to eruvim.

“Instead of working with people from our community to figure things out, I felt like we have been getting attacked. Changing laws, changing ordinances, sending out summonses to hundreds of people about their basketball nets just in order so eruv can be banned,” Prupas told the audience.

David Sopher, who moved to Jackson after living in Lakewood for 18 years, spoke out against the eruv because public property is needed for them.

“In order to make one, one has to use public property. I don’t know if the public is agreeable to that. If everyone’s agreed to it, find, I’m agreed to it. But until that time everyone is agreed to it  I don’t think we should make an eruv,” Sopher said.

Before taking a vote, council members noted that changes could be made at a later date. Council President Kenneth Brezzi said the primary purpose of the ordinance was to bring it in line with Jackson’s current form of government.

“We will be looking at this and there could be amendments” Bressi said.

Bressi and Mayor Michael Reina did not return messages seeking comment about the ordinance.

After the vote, Rabbi Avi Schnall, the director of Agudath Israel of New Jersey, told The Lakewood Scoop he is disturbed by the vote.

“We are disturbed by this development, but hopeful that the council members will follow through in the commitments they made tonight to continue dialogue and that there are possibilities of amending this ordinance,” Rabbi Schnall told The Lakewood Scoop.

Jackson passed an ordinance in March banning dormitories in the township, a move that was interpreted by some as a way of banning the construction of an Orthodox Jewish school.

Councilman Barry Calogero at the time said the vote was not directed at a particular race or religion and was intended to preserve the township’s “suburban culture” and limit over-development. But several residents mentioned concern over growth in Lakewood’s Orthodox Jewish community spilling over.

Elsewhere in Ocean County, Toms River Business Administrator Paul J. Shives in August said the township would not fight any attempt to put up eruv.

Mahwah is embroiled in a court battle over the eruv the was erected after local religious leaders got permission from the utility company that owns the poles. The eruv crosses over into neighboring Monsey, New York.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com.

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