JACKSON – A documentary – and the website of its creators – was denounced during a recent press conference held at the township municipal building.
State, county and township officials including Jackson Mayor Mike Reina were among those that came out to the press conference held a half hour before a township council meeting to condemn the documentary “Ocean County 2030” produced by the administrators of the Facebook page “Rise Up Ocean County” which was set to be released by Feb. 18 according to trailers that appear on its website.
The conference was coordinated by Michael Cohen, who serves as east coast director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization which has a membership of over 400,000 people and includes 50,000 in the tri state area.
Cohen said his organization was voicing support for the inclusion and passage of a resolution that opposed the actions of Rise Up Ocean County. Cohen said his organization strongly condemns the words and imagery of the Nazi holocaust employed in the documentary into “an already emotional and divisive debate over the future of development in communities across the state.”
Cohen said that US law prohibits the discrimination based on religion or racial reasons. Cohen added that the actions of Rise Up Ocean County had produced harmful rhetoric.
Saint Aloysius Catholic Church Pastor John Bambrick said he was representing his congregation of 6,300 Catholics who he said “want to raise up our neighbors and friends and not rise up against them. We look for the best of all citizens and we are a very welcoming community here in Jackson.”
Sen. Robert Singer (R-30th) said “there is no acceptance of anti-Semitism. There is no ‘I didn’t mean that.’ Saying your ‘sorry’ is not good enough.” Singer noted that the website has anonymous owners. “That really bothered me. If you are so proud of what you are saying, put your name on it. An anti-Semite is also a racist and the reverse is always the same, a racist is always an anti-Semite.
“Lakewood is a community that grew from many people who came from war torn Europe. There were egg farmers that came here and they had numbers, tattoos on their arms. Bringing those images in front of us is an offense to all of us. We must pass resolutions against anti-Semitism. Once you accept it, they win and they can’t win,” Singer said.
The four trailers seen on the Rise Up Ocean County website show images that report future overdevelopment and destruction of the environment. One trailer featured footage showing students of a Jewish school in the school yard shot from the other side of the school’s fence. The students were seen puzzled and following the person filming them.
The inclusion of the children in particular incensed several who were present at the press conference including Reina and Reisa Sweet, of Lakewood, who chairs the Ocean County Human Relations Committee.
Sweet said prior to the press conference that she saw the four trailers “and I am coming here to learn about what is happening. I had concerns about one showing children whose parents did not give permission for their image to be used.”
Jackson resident Ruth Mellon said that many questions remain concerning what the documentary represents, how it will be screened and she supported an interfaith dialogue. “I was a teacher and we need something to promote a dialogue not promote differences.”
Manfred Lindenbaum, a 60-year resident of Jackson and a Holocaust survivor, spoke during the press conference saying “I have found Jackson a beautiful place to live and people-friendly. What I saw on that site in their demonizing, they don’t want there to be a discussion about issues. If they came out and said congestion, open spaces or something else but this isn’t what the site is about. It’s about a racial divide and getting people against people.”
Ocean County Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy said his office, in cooperation with police departments in the county, are always concerned about “the safety of everyone and making sure the quality of life remains safe for everyone.”
Freeholder Gerry P. Little said “we represent all of Ocean County, people of all faiths and people of all colors. We are one county. We are here to share our unity and solidarity for one Ocean County.”
Cohen and Bambrick asked Little if he and the Ocean County Freeholders would support the resolution that will be on the agenda of that board’s next meeting. Little responded that “we are reviewing it right now.”
“Is that a yes?” Bambrick asked.
Little repeated his response saying, “we are reviewing it.”
“Is the Freeholders standing against anti-Semitism?” Bambrick asked further.
“Absolutely,” Little answered.
At the close of the press conference, Jackson resident Cindy Wojo asked if questions would be entertained but was told that this was not part of the format of the press conference.
“I don’t think that (anti-Semitism) is part of their mission. This is all about the facts. They are uncovering the truths which have not been addressed. There is a lot of information that gets spewed out all based on facts. None of that stuff comes back to dispute those facts,” Wojo said.
This set off an emotional exchange. “The things that have been said on that page are inciting violence. Everything I see there is against the Jewish community. You can say it is not but it is,” said Sarri Singer of Lakewood. She founded a nonprofit dedicated to the psychological healing of terrorism survivors (stosglobal.org) and is also the senator’s daughter.
No one identified themselves as part – of nor spoke on behalf of – Rise Up Ocean County during the press conference or during the council meeting. At press time, Rise Up Ocean County did not respond to an e-mail asking for a comment. The site does not list any names or phone numbers in its contact field.
Jackson Council members spoke against Anti-Semitism during their council meeting that followed the press conference. Many in the audience expect that the resolution will be added to its agenda during the council’s next meeting. The resolution would be identical to the one passed recently passed in Lakewood Township and will also be voted on in Toms River Township and the Board of Ocean County Freeholders later this month.