April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Civil Rights Groups Stay Silent as NJ AG Alleges Discrimination Against Mahwah

But they destroy property values. They keep to themselves. They ruin our schools. They lie. They cheat. They only care about their own. A hated minority population created panic in an established community. But progressive movements have been incredibly quiet about the plight of Orthodox Jews who have tried to relocate to the Bergen County hamlet of Mahwah.

Although the town council of Mahwah, and some of its citizens. spoke up about their belief that they were being “invaded” by Orthodox Jews coming across the border from Rockland County in New York State, this week the attorney general of New Jersey, Chris Porino, spoke forcefully in the form of a discrimination lawsuit filed against the town and council members, seeking $3.5 million in damages.

The lawsuit alleges that Mahwah systematically designed a “hatetful plan…to discriminate against Orthodox Jews.” The lawsuit alleges that Mahwah introduced two statutes this past summer with the intention of keeping Orthodox Jews out of the town in violation of the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

The first limited “the use of Mahwah’s recreational facilities to New Jersey residents.”

The second was targeted to remove an eruv that had been erected on existing utility poles belonging to Verizon and with the permission of the utility company. Mahwah called the eruv illegal and cited a town zoning ordinance that “banned signs on utility poles or any device or other matter.” While the ordinance is neutral in draft it was designed to target Orthodox Jews from living in Mahwah since the lack of an eruv makes living in a community much more difficult for observant Jews. An eruv allows Jews to carry items or push strollers in a limited area where they would not be able to do so on the Sabbath without its installation under Jewish law.

The lawsuit cites several occurrences evidencing anti-Semitic behavior. At a council meeting on June 29, a resident asked:

“I was wondering if there are any thoughts and procedures in place to keep Chasidic Jewish people out of Mahwah? They have chased us out of two towns we lived in and now they are buying houses in Suffern.”

Another resident: “I don’t know if you noticed but the Chasidics have been making themselves very comfortable in our town parks.”

A third suggested that people bring dogs to town parks to “scare them away.”

The lawsuit alleges that a resident called the town police to report “Orthodox Jews using town parks, although the reporter did not allege the people were doing anything wrong.”

The lawsuit further cites an email exchange between a Mahwah resident and Council President Robert Hermansen where the resident expressed concern that with the passing of the new statute banning out-of-state residents from using parks her mother, a New York resident, would not be able to take her granddaughter to the park “even though we are not Jewish.” Hermansen responded that the woman should not worry because the ordinance was not established “to address her situation…The goal is to…make sure our poles stay clean.”

Hermansen responded that he “finds it appalling that the attorney general is making inferences about my email without calling me to find out what it meant.” Hermansen responded that the attorney general’s lawsuit “is nothing but a witch hunt against Mahwah.”

Hermansen, who is a Republican, believes the lawsuit is politically motivated and intended to aid the chances of Phil Murphy, the Democratic candidate for governor to get elected.

There are 22 municipalities in New Jersey that currently have eruvim. There are at least three where construction is planned. Upper Saddle River is currently also challenging the construction of an eruv in its town, but is working with the Jewish community in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit. The community in Mahwah has filed a private suit against the town separate from the attorney general action.

The state action cites other instances of anti-Semitic intent by of Mahwah residents, some of which include:

“This group of people is known for entering a community and taking it over for their own advantage. They are known for taking a lovely community and turning it into a run-down, dirty, unwanted place to live.”

“Our town is such a great place and if these things move in they will ruin it.”

“I do not want these things coming into my town and ruining it.”

“They are trying to move into Mahwah [and] once they do our schools will suffer [and] our taxes will go up. And Mahwah will reach new levels of welfare recipients.”

“They are clearly trying to annex land like they’ve been doing in Occupied Palestine.”

“I don’t want these rude, nasty, dirty people who think they can do what they want in our nice town.”

“I don’t want my town to be gross and infested with these nasty people.”

“They destroy what they have and run things to the ground. Give them one piece of property and before you know it there are thousands of non-tax payers in our great town.”

“This is a soft invasion. Next, we will see homes called ‘places of worship’ or ‘schools’ for this religious organization as a way for the members of this religious organization to avoid paying property taxes. I do not want to pick up the tab!”

“They will ruin the town like they have done elsewhere!”

“We need to protect our quality of life. There is absolutely no benefit in allowing the Orthodox Jewish contingent into Mahwah.”

“Keep these people out!”

“They are unsanitary.”

“They should stay where they are and leave our town alone. One last thought, they use our parks and playgrounds on Sunday and their children are unruly and rough with playground equipment.”

“I also don’t approve of the usage of our parks. We just spent all that money [for] Winters Park playground and when I go there with my kids it has been taken over by dozens and dozens of them! My kids just stare and don’t want to get out and use [the] playground.”

“What is the best way to voice my concern about non-Mahwah residents using our fields and playgrounds? I saw this type of thing destroy Suffern.”

“A group of 25 Hasidic girls and a leader got off the train in Mahwah and went to Winters Pond gazebo and also to the playground up on the hill.”

“I don’t know if you noticed, but the Hasidics have been making themselves very comfortable in our town parks.”

“If I see one of those, I’m tearing it down. I propose others do the same. They are out to destroy our country just as they continue to take over Rockland. They don’t care in the SLIGHTEST about anyone but themselves.”

“What’s happening in town is going to become a big issue. I see the writing on the wall. This will affect our home values and the neighborhood you and I both live in. Something needs to be done.”

“These folks thrive on corruption, trying to make the heads of law enforcement turn to the left as they progress their agent [sic] to the right. They have a history of doing WHATEVER they want to do in order to achieve their agenda.”

“They put these pipes outside my home and I took an axe and broke them right off.”

Anyone who says that anti-Semitism is dead in America is not looking very hard. Except that the hatred of Jews is not necessarily in the form of people wearing hoods and carrying torches. Sometimes it is in the form of people seeing “the other” and defending it in the form of real estate values and property taxes.

That the state is seeking damages of more than $3 million should grab the attention of other municipalities in New Jersey that seek to use zoning laws to restrict Orthodox Jews from living among them by use of targeting the construction and maintenance of eruvim.

Mahwah’s mayor, William Laforet, spoke in response to the state of New Jersey’s discrimination lawsuit brought against the town. He defended the town’s residents from charges of bigotry in the $3.5 million complaint: “The vast majority of our community is made up of good residents, good citizens, good law-abiding, good-hearted people. I don’t believe those comments represent our community in any way, shape or form.” Laforet said the city council will be meeting behind closed doors to discuss how to handle the complaint. He said that fighting the lawsuit could cost the town of Mahwah $10 million in legal fees. “Right now I don’t know what we are going to do,” Laforet lamented. Yes, he does. It’s only a question of when they do it.

By Stephen Loeb

 Stephen Loeb is an attorney practicing in New Jersey and New York. He can be reached at [email protected] or 212-766-5268.

 

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