JACKSON – After hours of discussion and several loud and angry exchanges between audience members and township officials, a resolution that would have allowed for discussion of erecting a religious device around the perimeter of Jackson was tabled.
The eruv used by members of the Orthodox Jewish community can be made of string and tubing and is used in regard to the Jewish observance of the Shabbat, the Saturday holy day.
During the Shabbat, no member of that faith is permitted to work. The traditional interpretations of Jewish law forbid moving an object from one domain to another, no matter its weight or purpose. The eruv allows them to do things around their home and still be in observance.
In 2017, Jackson Eruv Association President Mordechai Burnstein alerted the council of its plans to work with utility companies to affix eruvin to poles and other utility-owned areas. This created a controversy within the township and led to litigation between Jackson and Agudath Israel of America.
The lawsuit alleged the township violated the rights of Orthodox Jewish residents by denying their ability to install eruv. Agudah New Jersey and the Jackson Eruv Association also accused Jackson officials of anti-Semitism.
During a crowded council meeting, Council Vice President Barry Calogero, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Council President Robert Nixon, repeatedly explained the intent of the resolution along with assistance from Township Attorney Jean Cipriani.
“In an effort to attempt to bring peace and harmony to all Jackson residents, we created a resolution that if approved affords our Jewish community the opportunity to observe their faith in a respectful manner and to not impose their religious convictions or cultures on non-Jewish residents,” Calogero said.
Calogero added, “simply put, instead of having eruvs of all make, sizes, and constructions, that in some cases are unsightly and create hazardous situations, this resolution will afford the opportunity to all who require the ability to continue to obey their customs on the Sabbath and not need to construct individual eruv wires all across town. This is at no cost or use of taxpayer dollars.
“This process has been widely successful in many cities throughout the country, including our nation’s capital Washington D.C. as well as many municipalities throughout the state including Manalapan and Cherry Hill,” Calogero said.
“Not one of these towns are entirely enclosed in an eruv. I get it you are between a rock and a hard place. We don’t have to have every style of eruv,” resident John Meyers said.
Residents and visitors from Manchester and Toms River who spoke during the meeting loudly expressed their view that the council developed the resolution as a means to appease Jackson’s Orthodox Jewish community and to also ease tensions from the ongoing litigation.
The majority of residents who filled the meeting room opposed the resolution and criticized the governing body for not properly researching it. Some wanted a stipulation added for the removal of existing non-conforming eruv in sections of Jackson, more communication with the Eruv Association to confirm that the proposed plan would eliminate the need for smaller eruvs and to reach out to communities who have adopted a perimeter-wide eruv.
Calogero and Cipriani pointed out that such a clause in the resolution would not be needed regarding the removal of non-conforming eruv as it was already written into the township’s code enforcement regulations. Audience members replied asking why eruv placed in violation of township code had not already been removed.
“Let me be clear, we expect all residents both new to Jackson and those with deep roots to obey and respect the laws of this municipality that your elected officials have created over the years that has resulted in a beautiful community we can call home,” Calogero said.
Residents such as William Marx however were not convinced during the early portion of the meeting, that the council was representing the majority of Jackson’s residents.
“This is not a sellout. This is not a settlement of any lawsuits. This is merely a governing body trying to bring a community together in a peaceful and respectful manner that we can all live with,” Calogero added.
Resident Jeff Nemeth was also not convinced. “I have respect for all races and religions but I expect the same. There are 60,000 people here that you have a responsibility to and not just those that want to bum rush everything they want. They accuse us of anti-Semitism and threaten lawsuits. Don’t sell out and turn your backs on 60,000 people.
“Lay down to nobody. File lawsuits against these people. It is a scare tactic. We are already well on our way to becoming a city. If you can’t stand up to them – leave, get out of your position. Please reconsider this,” Nemeth said.
“Have you discussed this with the Orthodox Jewish community?” resident Bruce Miller asked.
Calogero said he had spoken with Burnstein about the resolution but with no other member of the Orthodox Jewish community.
“This is all a charade. This is going to pass. This is going to send a bad message. There is clearly an agenda here,” Marx said.
Calogero assured the public that “there is nothing in this that would require this (eruv) on public property. If it is passed the resolution allows for a conversation to propose it. They would get their own contractors and permits. Jackson is not making a plan. The Eruv Association or some other group would do that.”
A Toms River resident warned the governing body that if the resolution was passed it would “open the door to Toms River, Brick and other communities in Ocean County” to have a similar eruv perimeter placement.
“The idea is that it would eliminate individual eruv. Jackson is acknowledging existing law,” Cipriani said.
The audience persisted and amid numerous swings of the gavel to bring order by Calogero, and repeat speakers to the podium, the council vice president acknowledged that the resolution needed further review. He motioned for the resolution be tabled at 9:45 p.m. and Councilman Alex Sauickie quickly seconded that motion.
Further discussion of the resolution was halted during the public comment period though several speakers brought up aspects of it when they reached the microphone.
Marx, Nemeth and several others expressed surprise by the turn of events. Calogero said that the governing body does listen to residents. The meeting which usually runs a little over a half hour concluded at 11:20 p.m.