The Jackson, NJ Eruv Conflict — A Pro-active Approach

“Shammai would say: Make your Torah study a permanent fixture of your life. Say little and do much. And receive every man with a pleasant countenance.”

“Rabbi Chanina, deputy to the kohanim, would say: Pray for the integrity of the government; for were it not for the fear of its authority, a man would swallow his neighbor alive.”

Dear fellow resident of Jackson,

May I introduce myself?  I moved to Jackson about one year ago after retiring from a half century in the Orthodox pulpit Rabbinate.  My only claim to fame in Jackson is that my son-in-law, Yossi Stamler, is the Gabbai for the minyan at R’ Aron Cohen’s home.

The recent vote by Jackson City Council, which de facto was a rejection of a community Eruv, has underscored a problem that must be addressed by all of us, prompting me to write this letter.

At the time of my arrival in Jackson a remark by my namesake, Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz of Agudath Israel, regarding the lack of availability and reasonably priced living accommodations in communities such as Boro Park and Lakewood went viral on the internet.  His innocent remark that those who find it financially impossible to live in such communities should become a “shtikel pioneer” considering moving into nearby communities such as Jackson, was deliberately or innocently misconstrued by unfortunately all to many to mean an orchestrated “invasion” by Orthodox families was underway in our Township.  This resulted in a negative and nasty backlash in Jackson. Frankly, when I purchased my home in Westlake Golf and Country Club, I was told by my neighbors that I was seen as the “tip of the spear” of that “invasion” in this 55+ senior community.  I realized that I had to respond to this sentiment.

Given my background in community work, my first step was to reach out to our local parish priest, Fr. Bambrick, who is Pastor to St. Aloysis R.C. Church, a parish of several thousand families.  He was most gracious, expressing his concern and readiness to cooperate in dealing with some of the acrimonious sentiments expressed in Jackson relative to the arrival of Orthodox Jews of which he was already aware. I then arranged for a meeting for the two of us with our Mayor, Mike Reina, and our then Township Administrator.  Within minutes the Mayor and I realized we were paisannos, landtsmen, both hailing from the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn. It became evident to me that Mayor Reina was a welcoming individual grappling with the rumblings of those in Jackson who were not comfortable with the rapid influx of Orthodox Jews. I can state without equivocation, that given his background and my interchanges with him, the Mayor is most definitely a philo-Semite.  Our conversation was direct, candid and to the point. We reviewed the situation, discussing ways and means by which we could ameliorate those negative sentiments

My next step was to arrange with Fr. Bambrick a talk by me at his parish’s community building entitled “All You Wanted to Know about Orthodox Judaism but Never Had A chance To Ask.” It was attended by over 300 individuals and was well received. You can read an article about it in the Asbury Park Press on line.

Frankly, this was just a beginning. In accord with the ethical requisites of our Sages (above), I would like to begin a concerted effort in our growing Orthodox community to reach out to the general community to respond to their misgivings and misconceptions relative to the continuing influx of Orthodox families to Jackson and our religious practices and needs.  Yes, I know, situations such as the Eruv can be resolved in our favor in the courts.  Yet for me and I suspect for you as well, it would be more advantageous for everyone concerned and, again, and perhaps more importantly, in accord with the teachings of our Sages, that the courts remain the absolute last resort.

As I explained to the Mayor, if the general community wished to conduct a festival in the streets of Jackson similar to the San Gennaro Festival held annually in “Little Italy” in lower Manhattan, made famous in the original Godfather movie, with its noise, street closures, traffic congestion, procession and booths, not one word of objection would be heard from the Orthodox Jewish community as we would respect this public demonstration of our neighbors’ religious conviction. Why cannot the general community respect the construction of an Eruv, unnoticeable to the passerby unless he\she was aware of its presence, as our public demonstration of our religious conviction? It only takes a sense of understanding and mutual respect to make this a reality.

If you would like to join me in this effort, please send me an e mail with your contact information.  Once a number of folks respond, I will set a date for a meeting convenient for everyone.

Respectfully and G’Mar Tov,

Rabbi Ephraim (Philip) Lefkowitz

About the Author
Retired and residing in Jackson, New Jersey, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz was the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
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