JACKSON – The mayor and council made it clear, anti-Semitism has no place in Jackson or the rest of the world as they spoke before close to 40 people during a recent council meeting.
The audience was made up of many Orthodox Jews from Jackson, Lakewood and Toms River who joined township residents in calling for the governing body to adopt a resolution identical to one passed in Lakewood earlier this month and which was sent to the Toms River Township Council and the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
The Freeholders did pass that resolution Wednesday.
That formal resolution denounces Rise Up Ocean County, which is a Facebook page that many of the county’s Orthodox Jewish population, a number of elected leaders and several leaders from different faiths are calling anti-Semitic based on the text and content of their posts and four trailers promoting the release of a documentary called “Ocean County 2030.”
That documentary is focusing on issues of current and future development in Ocean County primarily focusing on Lakewood, Toms River and Jackson, each of whom have had an increase in their population of Orthodox Jews in their respective communities.
Rise Up Ocean County, which became active in 2018, has also focused on bringing awareness to traffic, overcrowding and general growth issues. It has received criticism for not listing its group owners and moderators. When contacted through the group’s website, The Jackson Times was requested to submit questions to the group. The group has responded and due to length, will be presented in a separate article.
Critics of the group acknowledge that issues of concern do exist regarding development and growth, but have also expressed that Rise Up Ocean County has slanted its presentation of those issues and also used inappropriate images to convey its message.
Jackson Mayor Mike Reina also attended a press conference held in the lobby of Township Hall a half hour prior to the council meeting. That press conference condemned the documentary and Rise Up Ocean County. The proposed resolution was prepared and submitted to Jackson Township by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization.
Father John Bambrick of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in the township supported the measure. “We’ve heard from Jewish, Muslims and Christians tonight. When does freedom of speech become hate speech?”
Council President Rob Nixon said that legally, the township was not permitted to pass the resolution as it had not issued the necessary public notice for it. When pressed for an answer about whether the resolution would be on the Council’s next agenda, Nixon referred to the statement he read early on in the meeting condemning any use of hate speech.
“As a community, it shouldn’t take resolutions to bring people together. The mayor and council took an oath to defend the Constitution and that includes the right to free speech. At the same time, we do not endorse and are not responsible for the content of the press and social media.
“I want to advise any group that makes statements under the protection of their constitutional rights: You need to respect that what you say has consequences that hurts others. When words lead to fear, you need to make it right,” Nixon added.
Reina said during the council meeting that “if we can’t learn to get along now it will only get worse. We all want to live in peace.”
Councilman Kenneth Bressi expressed support for the resolution.
Resident Robert Skinner, who serves as the township’s volunteer rent control board chairman, proposed a resolution of his own to the council that he felt could be a model for other municipalities as well. Skinner’s resolution would have Feb. 14 be recognized as Embrace All Religions Day. His proclamation which applies to housing and rental subjects included “whereas, the municipality shall not discriminate upon any religion, Jewish, Christian, Muslim or others.”
Dr. Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of Basking Ridge of the Muslim faith called for the governing body to act on the resolution. “If I hear hateful comments from anyone about members of any other community, I pledge to stand up for the other and speak up to challenge bigotry in any form.”
Colin Lewis of Toms River who worked many years in Jackson Township said “what is great about democracy is you can still sit down and talk but you need words that build people up not tear people down. Please consider the resolution.”
Resident Mordechai Burnstein also spoke out against Rise up Ocean County saying the group used images of children and a photo that was taken in New York. “I hope the council considers the resolution. Denounce the bigotry, denounce the hate. It is a movement that needs to be called out.”
“If you want a community discussion you know we will always say yes,” Nixon said.