Jackson, NJ – It is a battle that has been hard fought and filled with anti-Semitic rhetoric and allegations of discrimination, but plans have been approved for the construction of the first legal synagogue in New Jersey’s Jackson Township.
The synagogue, Kolel Shas Yiden, also known as the Royal Grove Shul, will be located at 518 East Veterans Highway near the Royal Grove housing development.
The synagogue could hold a maximum of 300 people and the plans, which include two study rooms and separate men’s and women’s mikvaos, were unanimously approved by the Jackson Township planning board on Monday night as reported by the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2BdgGON).
Several board members qualified their vote, noting that while they had concerns about the plans for the synagogue, they had no legal basis for voting against the project.
Safety was mentioned as a serious concern. East Veterans Highway, also known as County Road 528, has a speed limit of 50 miles per hour and no sidewalks.
“Nobody drives 50 mph,” said Jackson resident Gene Quintieri. “We’re all human. It’s 55 mph, 60 mph. It’s just not safe.”
Acknowledging the issue, synagogue attorney Ray Shea said that Kolel Shas Yiden will be seeking an easement that would allow it to construct a sidewalk that would give Royal Grove residents direct access to the shul.
“That would be idea, even though it’s not required by law,” said Shea. “We want what you want – safety.”
Speaking for the synagogue, Shimmy Heller noted that the facility is expected to open in approximately two years and will have both daily and Shabbos minyanim. Heller said that despite the synagogue’s larger capacity, he does not expect to have more than 100 congregants at Kolel Shas Yiden even on its busiest days. The current local minyan currently draws no more than 50 people, according to Heller.
Jackson Township has found itself in the media spotlight all too often recently. As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2BdSE69 ), the township reversed its controversial eruv ban last December citing concerns of a potential protracted legal battle. The town is also being investigated by the Department of Justice and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office to determine if a newly enacted ban on schools and dormitories discriminated against the township’s growing Orthodox Jewish population.
Jackson resident Isaac Tawil filed a suit against the township last month, according to the Asbury Park Press (http://on.app.com/2BdPYWb), charging council vice president Rob Nixon with harassment for allegedly ordering stakeouts at his home on weekends when neighbors gathered at his home for Shabbos services.
“The repeated presence of these officers had a chilling effect, was intimidating and became a form of harassment,” stated the lawsuit. “Mr. Tawil was being denied his right to pray at home by the actions of the Jackson Township code enforcement.”
Code compliance supervisor Ken Pieslak repeatedly reported that there were no violations taking place at Tawil’s Pitney Lane home or at others he was asked to investigate, prompting Jackson business administrator Helene Schlegel to criticize the activity as a waste of “valuable time and money.”
“We can’t keep chasing ghosts,” said Schlegel in an email. “It’s the same people and addresses every week. I know that possible shuls are a serious issue but other issues are life-threatening.”