New Jersey – Orthodox Jewish Jackson Township residents who were hoping that an eruv would soon be in place to enhance their quality of life may find themselves facing an uphill battle, as members of the township council unanimously agreed to close a loophole that would allow for the construction of an eruv on existing telephone poles.
That decision came at a meeting held Tuesday night by the township council which sought to correct an ambiguity in an existing ordinance that addressed placing any item in the right of way.
Currently, Jackson town code allows the “Township Committee” to grant an exemption to the ordinance, but since the township committee has been replaced by the township council, the meeting sought to bring the code up to date with the current structure of the municipality. While making the changes to the town code, the five member township council also agreed to remove the clause that allowed for possible exemptions to the ordinance which had previously permitted at the discretion of the municipality, as reported by The Shore News Network (http://bit.ly/2f66Fun).
Members of Jackson’s Jewish community had submitted their request to attach an eruv to existing telephone poles in early July, hoping to put up the eruv with the town’s permission, according to Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel of America. Because the telephone poles are in the public right of way, using them as part of the eruv required the township’s approval according to section 372-8 of the Jackson town code which forbids obstructing any streets or public places in the township “with any article or thing whatsoever unless permission has been first obtained in writing from the Township Committee of the Township of Jackson.”
Rabbi Mordechai Burnstein told CentralJersey.com(http://bit.ly/2f62jU3) that he had contacted the municipality about constructing an eruv, hoping to cooperate fully and transparently with the township in the process.
“We are not looking to make a fight,” said Rabbi Burnstein. “We are looking to do it in a way with community dialogue.”
The Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2f5UjlB) reported that several weeks later, the township began issuing violations to homeowners for items such as hockey nets and basketball hoops that were situated either in the street or on the grassy strip located between the sidewalk and the street.
Roger Pipher of Jackson was one of over 300 residents who received a violation notice from the township, telling him to remove a portable basketball hoop located at the curb of his property within 10 days or face a $1,000 fine. According to the township’s code, violators are subject to a penalty ranging from $100 to $2,000, a prison sentence of up to 90 days, or both, at the discretion of the convicting judge.
Addressing the town council at a meeting this past summer, Pipher asked the five person board to allow him to keep the hoop, noting that playing basketball is a healthy outlet for his son.
“We talk about the drug problems we have in Ocean County and we are trying to keep kids in a good place and we have no place for them to go and we are going to take (a basketball hoop) away from them?” remarked Pipher.
Rabbi Schnall said that only a minority of the violations were issued to Orthodox Jewish residents who had constructed small eruvs of their own that extended into the public right of way. He noted that the timing of the enforcement, right after the request to build an eruv had been submitted to the township council, seemed suspect.
Jackson resident Yoseif Schwartz categorized the township’s sudden crackdown on items in the public right of way as “a bald faced attempt to stop an eruv.” He criticized the township’s overzealous enforcement efforts as un-American.
“Seeing people get up and realistically say they are receiving notices for $1,000 or the threat of $1,000 to remove a basketball (hoop) is to me, a direct threat of everything I dreamed of when I bought my house,” said Schwartz.
Jackson Mayor Michael Reina said in August that the stepped up code enforcement had nothing to do with the eruv but was initiated by the township council in response to complaints from residents.
“This is not something that popped up because the eruv wires came in,” said Reina. “I think there are more complaints for basketball hoops than eruv wires.”
Reina said that his three newly hired officers were simply enforcing an existing law that had been long ignored.
“It’s always been there,” insisted Reina. “It was a sleeping giant.”
But Ken Bressi, president of the township council, disagreed with Reina, saying that he had returned from a vacation and was surprised to find that the mayor’s office had launched the initiative to tighten up code enforcement in the village.
The new ordinance is one of many that have been drafted since Orthodox Jews began moving into Jackson two years ago and would become law once signed by the mayor. But the fight for an eruv in Jackson is far from over, noted Rabbi Schnall, who said that members of the town council said that they voted for the new ordinance only to ensure that the wording was up to date with the structure of the town government as it currently exists.
“They said that they want to continue the dialogue on how to amend this ordinance in the future to accommodate the needs of the community,” Rabbi Schnall told VIN News. “We as a community need to hold them accountable to that statement and ensure that they do continue the dialogue and continue to discuss the possibility of an eruv.”
The possibility of pursuing different strategies for the construction of a Jackson eruv, including legal options, is still on the table, said Rabbi Schnall.
Members of the Jackson NJ Strong Facebook group have been expressing their thoughts on whether discrimination was a factor in nixing the eruv.
“This really sounds more like when they requested to do this the township looked up any ordinances that it might violate and realised they were missing out on revenue for fining hockey nets,” wrote Jessica Hernandez. “As long as the wires don’t impede anyone I don’t see how they could be a problem.”
But others had far less positive comments on the issue.
“Wish people would just stop selling,” posted Jennifer Nabel.
“Contrary to what your mother told you, your father told you, your school has told you and your religion tells you…. You are NOT special,” wrote Michele Ann. “If you do not like the rules don’t move here. Thank you.”
Neither Reina nor any members of the township council were available to comment on the matter.