Lakewood, NJ – The state Department of Environmental Protection, after what it said were its “best efforts” to have the defendants remove thousands of bags of religious artifacts it contends were illegally buried in Lakewood and Jackson, wants a judge to order the cleanups.
In a lawsuit filed in state Superior Court, the DEP says that a Lakewood rabbi, Chaim Abadi, illegally buried some 15 truckloads of discarded printed materials in thousands of black plastic garbage bags in March and April of this year in an undeveloped lot off Vermont Avenue in Lakewood, (as was reported here on Vos Iz Neias). He created a similar disposal area in Jackson last year, according to the suit.
Abadi charged a $15 fee from customers in numerous Jewish communities in New Jersey and New York to dispose of the artifacts, the DEP said in a court brief.
The Lakewood site created an uproar last spring among residents who saw the burial as an illegal dump. It also put pressure on the DEP, which found itself conflicted between environmental concerns and religious sensitivity. The items, or shaimos, are Jewish texts considered sacred to Jews that are buried usually over Passover.
The DEP brief argues, however, that the buried items fall under the Solid Waste Management Act (SWMA): “The materials buried at the Jackson disposal site and the Lakewood disposal site constitute solid waste because they were discarded and buried with the intent to finally dispose of them at those locations.”
Environmental officials said they also were concerned that the material was buried within 100 yards of a New Jersey American Water well.
Abadi could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Named as defendants in the suit are Abadi, Hard Maple Realty LLC, Vincenzo W. Mettee, Champion Subcontracting and Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc.
In April, the DEP had ordered Abadi to relocate the materials to an approved dump site.
“Despite the department’s best efforts to compel defendants to comply with the SWMA by properly removing and disposing of the waster materials currently at the Jackson disposal site and the Lakewood disposal site, all of the material remains unlawfully disposed of at those two locations,” the DEP brief says.
State officials have suggested the Orthodox Jewish community proceed with a landfill permit, so one day it can have a lasting and legal space to bury its holy items.
Questions still surround the ownership of the Lakewood site.