TOMS RIVER – A letter telling Jewish families that their homes will be safe if they go away for Rosh Hashanah was interpreted by some as giving favor to one group in town, but officials say that they protect everyone equally.
The Sept. 14 letter from police offered Toms River residents the option to share their contact info so the police can keep an eye on their home when they are away for the new year holiday. It also urged that people make sure they lock their doors and set their alarms.
“For the residents that are home for Rosh Hashanah we want you to know that we will be having additional patrols at the times of prayer services,” the letter read.
The letter went on to describe the township’s regulations on having temporary structures on homeowner property, as some celebrants would be using them for part of their observance.
The letter was published on The Lakewood Scoop’s online publication and made the rounds on social media. Also on the Lakewood Scoop is a similar letter from Lakewood’s Chief Gregory Meyer. It urged residents to make sure their homes are locked if they are going away.
“We will be increasing our day and night time patrols paying close attention to heavily gathered places around town. You will see the Ocean County Sheriff’s Department and the New Jersey State Police in and around town over the holidays as well,” the Lakewood letter read.
Readers of the Scoop commented that the Toms River letter was a nice gesture by the town. Others in social media questioned why one portion of the population was getting special treatment, when every religion has holidays that cause people to go out of town.
Mayor Thomas Kelaher said the police will always go where they are needed, and would never choose one population over another. The letter originated from Ralph Stocco, a retired sergeant who works as the public information officer for the police. However, it would have been better if it had come through the town administration and been publicized in a different way. If, for instance, the letter was put out on the department’s Facebook, it wouldn’t have been perceived as being skewed toward the Orthodox community only. Part of the motivation might have been to educate residents new to town about police efforts and township codes.
The police offer the same service to anyone, he added. It is not just a special service for one part of the population.
There are no active threats against synagogues or Jewish homes, and perhaps part of that has to do with police presence. There is, unfortunately, a growing antisemitism in town, he said. Members of the Jewish faith must see what happens in other towns, and worry about it happening here.
“I’m sure Jewish people must feel vulnerable,” he said.
Kelaher said he understands the argument that people have said they were never given the offer to have police watch their homes when they’re away for Christmas. However, churches are not usually targeted.
“The Christian community, to my knowledge, have never gotten any threats,” he said.
Mayor Kelaher sent out a statement to assure people that no single population was being given any services that are not available to anyone else.
“Although well-intentioned, the announcement, as worded and publicized, raised concerns that public resources were being used to provide special treatment or a special service not generally available,” he wrote in a press release. “That is categorically not the case. The township has always – and will steadfastly continue to provide its services and enforce its ordinances on an equal basis. The policies and procedures referenced in the announcement are applicable and available to all township residents uniformly, without regard to color, creed, or heritage. That is our country’s way, and that is Toms River’s way.
“To the extent the announcement conveyed the opposite impression, that was unequivocally not how it was intended, and certainly not how the Police Department wanted it received. Unfortunately, the announcement was released without the approval or input of the Mayor’s Office or the Township Council,” he wrote. “Going forward, I have directed that any future announcements from any department be pre-approved by the business administrator and Division of Law to avoid another misunderstanding.
“We express regret that any township resident felt excluded or offended by this announcement and reaffirm our unwavering commitment to keep Toms River a strong, vibrant, and inclusive community,” he wrote.
Toms River police did not return calls for more information by press time.