Mahwah, NJ – More than 200 Mahwah residents packed a picnic pavilion on Monday night at a local township park to formulate a plan for dealing with components of an eruv that has sprung up in recent days in the northernmost reaches of Mahwah.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2eJKclZ), the South Monsey Eruv Fund installed white PVC piping on numerous telephone poles in the township to be used as part of an eruv. The piping was put up with approval of the local utility company, but town officials ordered it removed on grounds that it violated a local ordinance that prohibits any kind of signage on utility poles.
Residents who attended the meeting at Continental Soldier Field in Mahwah were encouraged to leave their names and contact information on signup sheets and to volunteer their time and skills to the grassroots effort to have the pipes removed.
The meeting was described as just the first of many, with Mahwah resident and volunteer Robert Ferguson saying the effort would be a “long process.”
Ferguson advised residents to stay calm and to educate themselves on how things have unfolded in communities that have experienced similar situations including Rockland County, Lakewood, Jackson and Toms River. He was also quick to note that the issue was not about religion or bias but simply an effort to enforce the law.
“We do not not want these people living in our neighborhoods,” said Ferguson. “We want them following the law.”
Ferguson also noted that a recently enacted ordinance will prevent non-residents from using local parks, saying that in recent weeks, busloads of out of state children have swarmed parks in Mahwah, Ramsey, Upper Saddle River and Montvale.
Reports of people knocking on doors and offering homeowners cash for their houses have also been a cause for concern, said Ferguson. In both instances, Ferguson asked residents to stay calm and to call police to report the problems.
Mahwah Mayor Bill Laforet estimated that the law prohibiting signage on utility poles has been on the books for approximately 20 years. According to Laforet, while the PVC piping may lack words or pictures, because it sends a clear message to those who would use the eruv that carrying is permitted within its perimeter, it meets the legal definition of a sign and is, therefore, prohibited.
Enforcing the long standing ordinance is part of his job as mayor, explained Laforet who said he has made numerous unsuccessful attempts to contact officials at the Rockland Eruv to discuss the situation with them. The lack of dialogue between Mahwah and the parties constructing the eruv is a recipe for “a train collision,” warned Laforet, who said he has seen hatred erupting in his normally diverse and inclusive township.
“There is genuinely founded fear when you see what goes on in Lakewood,” Laforet told VIN News. “You hear about what has gone on in Kiryas Joel. Communities in Rockland County that have been decimated for whatever reason that has unfortunately been tagged to this community. The fear is what has happened historically does not happen here in Mahwah. I believe that is an honest concern.”
Laforet said that he does not know if the PVC piping for the eruv is intended to be part of a new Mahwah eruv or if the streets in Mahwah that were included are just part of an effort to enlarge the existing Chestnut Ridge eruv. So far, the affected poles are located on just five streets: Airmont Avenue, Masonicus Road, Sparrowbush Road, Saddle River Road West and East Mahwah Road, all of which are near the New York/New Jersey border.
While Laforet has ordered all of the piping removed by August 4th, he is still holding out hope that he will be able to speak with the eruv committee.
“There has to be a way to solve this without all the hatred,” said Laforet.
In his remarks, Ferguson also stressed the importance of keeping hatred out of the equation and avoiding a “posse mentality.”
Yet despite Ferguson singling out this reporter in his remarks to the crowd saying, “tell your friends, we are not against you,” hatred was very much in evidence at the Monday night meeting.
I was harassed by multiple individuals throughout the approximately hour long meeting, including a man who snarled “don’t touch me” as I walked by.
Several people told me I was not welcome during the meeting and I had cell phone cameras shoved inches away from my face repeatedly as people snapped pictures of both me and my press credentials.
A woman who followed me throughout the night, bombarding me with questions and accusations in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to disrupt my recordings actually walked me through the parking lot to make sure that I left the premises, while another woman photographed my license plate as I got into my car.
One lone Mahwah woman approached me and told me with a smile that all are welcome in Mahwah. I wish I could have believed her, but she was clearly in the minority. I left the meeting looking over my shoulder, making sure that my car wasn’t being followed as I drove home.
Are the events unfolding in Mahwah nothing more than an effort to maintain the pristine appearance of the township’s utility poles? A legitimate concern about quality of life issues if Rockland County’s Jewish community spills over the border into New Jersey? Or just thinly veiled anti-Semitism?
Only time will tell.