June 12, 2024
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Jewish Leaders Hail Departing NJ AG Grewal

“When antisemitism strikes our communities, we stand up & stand together,” tweeted New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal in January, as he joined thousands of political and community leaders and others in New York in the No Hate No Fear March against antisemitism.

Grewal has lived that tweet during the last almost four years, standing up to social media giants and against both overt acts of antisemitism and the more subtle restrictive measures enacted by municipalities aimed at Orthodox Jews.

Jewish leaders were saddened to learn Grewal will be leaving his post July 26 to become director of the division of enforcement of the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). For them, his stance on antisemitism was encapsulated in the rest of that tweet made from New York, in which Grewal added, “Today we marched in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters across the Brooklyn Bridge. We’ve got many more bridges to cross before we weed the scourge of antisemitism, but together, we will.”

Michael Cohen, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s eastern regional director, who often worked closely with Grewal, said, “We all owe a debt of gratitude to New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal for fearlessly taking on antisemitism and all forms of hate at a time when such efforts from his prestigious post [were] exactly what was needed.”

“From Mahwah to Jackson and everywhere in between, Attorney General Grewal did not just speak about combating the bigots,” said Cohen, “but he acted forcefully and bravely to ensure that those who hate understood without equivocation that there was no place for such actions or people in the state of New Jersey.”

During his tenure, Grewal took on Mahwah in Bergen County, alleging its township council discriminated against Orthodox Jews from bordering Rockland County when it banned non-state residents from using Mahwah parks and opposed installation of an eruv. The state lawsuit charged the council made the moves to address a feared “infiltration” of Orthodox Jews from over the state line in New York.

Grewal also filed a civil rights suit in April against Jackson Township and its land-use boards citing a repeat pattern of intentionally targeting the Orthodox community and its religious practices through zoning restrictions and discriminatory policy and enforcement strategies. “Like all public servants, municipal officials have a duty to uphold the law, not weaponize it against specific groups because of what they believe or how they worship,” said Grewal said in a statement with the filing. “Today’s lawsuit should send that message to anyone in New Jersey who needs to hear it.”

Although the Facebook group Rise Up Ocean County was formed ostensibly to combat unrestricted growth in Lakewood and surrounding communities, it became a hotbed of antisemitism. Pleas to Facebook to remove the page from its platform were ignored until Gov. Phil Murphy and Grewal got involved and the page and its 18,000 followers were banned for violating its terms of service by fomenting racism and antisemitism.

Grewal was also among the nearly two dozen state attorneys general who last year demanded Facebook do more to stop the spread of disinformation, discrimination and hate in an open letter.

However, it was not just his legal filings to squelch antisemitism that stand out for Jewish leaders, but also his accessibility and receptiveness.

“He has been a great hero and a great role model who was hugely respected by everybody,” said Rabbi Aaron Kotler, president and CEO of Beth Medrash Gohova in Lakewood. “He set a standard for the state in the way he stood up to hate and discrimination.”

“People are investing their lifetime savings, and the public trust rests on the banking sector, and even more, rests on having an honest market,” he explained. “I can think of no better person to see that the market remains honest than Gurbir.”

Alexander Rosemberg, deputy director of the New York/New Jersey region of the Anti-Defamation League, called Grewal “a tremendous partner in the fight against hate.” Rabbi David Levy, New Jersey regional director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), described Grewal as an “incredible partner” who leaves behind “an incredible legacy.”

“What I remembered most was his deep understanding of what it means to be a minority group in America, what it means to be a targeted community,” he said. “His understanding of antisemitism was amazing and touching and it came from a place of empathy and understanding as a member of the Sikh community.”

Rutgers Chabad Executive Director Rabbi Yosef Carlebach, who is also a state police chaplain, recalled receiving a call from his son, Rabbi Mendy Carlebach, Rutgers Chabad administrator and a chaplain for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who was on the New Jersey Turnpike on his way to a meeting in New York. The younger rabbi had just heard about the attack at the JC Kosher Supermarket in Jersey City by two members of an antisemitic offshoot of the Black Hebrew Israelites.

Because he was near Jersey City, Mendy Carlebach detoured to the crime scene, where he found Grewal taking a leadership role as a shootout raged. “He didn’t waste a minute in making this a full-blown state affair rather than a community affair, as it should be but that doesn’t always happen,” said Carlebach. “This was a small enclave of religious Jews who had moved to Jersey City. This wasn’t a major constituency but he (Grewal) did not see it that way and he put all the resources to work. We had follow-up meetings in Trenton and in our building in New Brunswick.”

“I’m honored and delighted to welcome Attorney General Grewal to the SEC,” said SEC Chair Gary Gensler in making the announcement. “He has had a distinguished career as New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer and as a prosecutor at both the local and federal levels. He has the ideal combination of experience, values and leadership ability to helm the enforcement division at this critical time. I look forward to working closely with him to protect investors and root out wrongdoing in our markets.”

By Debra Rubin

 

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