Lakewood, NJ and an Expose – Who is Imposing Views on Whom and Is it Anti-Semitism or Justified Resentment?

Lakewood in Ocean County has become a destination for Orthodox Jewish families. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Race, religion, corruption and politics: A guide to the crisis in Lakewood

Lakewood is home to a huge Orthodox Jewish community and the rapid growth has engulfed the town, igniting tensions between the religious and secular societies on many levels.

Each day, we will explore some of the major issues in the community, including the welfare fraud investigation, housing problems and the strains on the education system.

LAKEWOOD — The drive into Lakewood from the Parkway could be confused with any other stretch of county road near the Pinelands. There are farm stands, strip malls, modest neighborhoods and an occasional open field.

Then, you cross the border into Lakewood and the landscape changes immediately. There are suddenly crowded townhouse developments, new multifamily houses going up and members of the Orthodox Jewish community on every sidewalk.
 
Lakewood represents the convergence of almost every issue in New Jersey – race, religious freedom, discrimination, corruption, local politics, school funding, overdevelopment and transportation woes.
 
What makes it unique is the unprecedented growth of the town combined with the complex issues surrounding the booming Orthodox Jewish community.

While tensions have been rising in Lakewood for years, the turmoil has escalated in recent weeks with a showdown over school funding and a high-profile welfare fraud investigation.

The town thrust into the spotlight this summer with the arrest of 26 members of the Orthodox community accused of lying about their income to collect more than $2 million in public assistance.

The arrests brought renewed attention to Lakewood and highlighted what residents of the Ocean County town already know – Lakewood is changing. This once-faded resort community has become the most complex town in New Jersey.

What makes Lakewood unique?

Lakewood is booming. Thanks to an influx of Orthodox Jews, it has been New Jersey’s fastest-growing town over the last 20 years. It has one of the highest birth rates in the world. Housing is going up at an unprecedented pace.

“It’s probably the most attractive place in the United States today for a young Orthodox Jewish family,” said Rabbi Aaron Kotler, one of the leaders of the Orthodox community. “That’s a phenomenon that certainly didn’t exist when I was growing up, 20 or 30 years ago. But it’s a reality today.”

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Efforts At Increasing Understanding – Reb Carlebach and Yeshiva – the Myth

No, Reb Carlebach was not Kicked Out of Yeshivah

 

Anyone familiar with the late Reb Shlomo Carlebach, the famous Jewish composer and singer, is aware that he managed to attract countless followers. His influence reached all corners of the Jewish world, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike, and his tunes and hymns are used to this day by many congregations around the world to welcome the Jewish Sabbath every Friday evening.

With Carlebach’s eclectic approach of bringing Jews closer to Jewish practice through song, a myth and legend developed. It became accepted throughout much of the ultra-Orthodox world that Carlebach had himself kicked out of the prestigious Lakewood Yeshiva, formerly known as “Beth Medrash Govoha,” founded by Rabbi Aharon Kotler in 1943. It was also said that Carlebach had composed his inspiring but quite somber song “Lulaei Torascha” while sitting on the steps outside the yeshivah after his expulsion.

As poetic as the myth may be, Rabbi Kotler’s grandson, whose name is also Aharon, shattered it to pieces in a recent interview.

“Shlomo Carlebach was never kicked out of Lakewood,” said the young Rabbi Kotler, now president of the Lakewood Yeshiva. The yeshivah is an accredited institution of higher education in the state of New Jersey, and has approximately 7,000 students and 13,000 alumni, many of whom are leaders and builders of Jewish communities all over the world.

“Rav Aharon loved him,” said Rabbi Kotler. “He was, as we all know, exceptionally musically inclined … I can imagine that at some point in his life, his musical interests and drive exceeded his desire to learn inyeshivah.”

In fact, Reb Carlebach maintained a close connection with the elder Rabbi Kotler’s family.

“He played guitar at my parents’ sheva brochos [“Seven Blessings,” a Jewish wedding tradition],” said Rabbi Kotler. “They made a kumzits [evening gathering]. They closed the lights in the room, he sat on the floor.”

“One of the important things to remember is that Lakewood is not a life system,” he added. “Neither is kollel [an institute for full-time, advanced Talmud study] a life system for everybody, and certainly in Rav Aharon’s days people were in yeshiva for a number of years and then they eventually left. That was the norm. So I have never checked the enrollment records of Shlomo Carlebach, whether he stayed longer than the norm or shorter than the norm—but he certainly was not kicked out of Lakewood.”

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Lakewood – The 10 Questions, Not so Unique, Rockland, Jackson Township, Chester, etc.

Lakewood, a Test Case for Other Areas of New York and New Jersey, but Not Unique

The below article is being reposted without permission, in its entirety from New Jersey.com. We ask that you kindly click here to view the post in its original format as well as to avail yourselves of the advertising of that paper. We have not reposted the video which starts the article.

We note that NJ.com is a subscription service so, if asked to remove this post or any portion of it, we will do so. There is no intent to violate any copyrights. It should be noted that the author of  the article is Mark Pfeiffer, a non-Orthodox Jew. He is assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers. The rest of the credits for the article can be found at the end of the post. 

We make one single criticism of the article. Lakewood is mentioned as a unique situation, one not contemplated by our government’s founding fathers. We believe that Lakewood is not unique. A similar pattern can be seen throughout New York and New Jersey and likely in other parts of the country, like areas of Pennsylvania with students who attend the Lakewood Yeshiva. Insofar as Kiryas Joel is now the first religious town in the country, it also should be viewed in terms of a possible endpoint for Lakewood, except perhaps to the extent that Lakewood straddles a finer line between modernity and insularity.

Kiryas Joel or “Palm Tree, New York” has been for many years one of the poorest towns in the country. It is and will continue to represent one of the heaviest burdens on public resources throughout the United States. 

What’s next for Lakewood? 10 questions moving forward

Editor’s note, Part 9: Over the past nine days, NJ Advance Media has been taking a closer look at Lakewood, one of New Jersey’s fastest-growing and most complex towns. Lakewood is home to a huge Orthodox Jewish community and the rapid growth has engulfed the town, igniting tensions between the religious and secular societies on many levels. Each day, we have explored some of the major issues in the community, including the welfare fraud investigation, housing problems and the strains on the education system. Today, a look ahead.

By Ted Sherman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

LAKEWOOD–Neighborhoods change.

Newcomers move in. Old-time residents leave. Stores open and close. Politics shift.

Such is Lakewood, fast growing and changing faster, dramatically transforming the Ocean County township that’s already eclipsed many New Jersey cities in population.

But where is it headed?

A pair of Orthodox teens share a ride on a bicycle on the sidewalk outside of Georgian Court University in Lakewood. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

Lakewood found itself in the glare of unwanted attention this summer after 26 members of the Orthodox community were accused of lying about their income to collect more than $2 million in Medicaid and other public assistance.

Even before that, however, there has been turmoil and controversy, from a financial crisis brought on by school busing to private yeshivas, to unchecked growth and development that chokes the town daily with traffic, to basic questions about the separation of church and state.

Nearly 1,00 members of the Orthodox community listen during a meeting organized by the Vaad, Lakewood’s religious council. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

1) Why is this place different from all other places?

Marc Pfeiffer, the assistant director of the Bloustein Local Government Research Center at Rutgers University and a former deputy director of the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services, said what is happening in Lakewood is unique.

“It is effectively a religious community bound together by religious and social traditions that basically started small and has exponentially grown and is now large enough and powerful enough to assume control of the political process,” he said.

The effect of that, he said, “has created circumstances that arguably our laws and rules did not contemplate.”

A flyer that put out by Lakewood’s Vaad prior to the recent primary election, telling members of the Orthodox community how to vote. (Photo courtesy of Lakewood  resident)

2) Can a religious community take over a town?

“There are lots of communities in New Jersey that you could call insular and who vote the same way. Newark is one that comes to mind,” noted Matthew Hale, who teaches political science and public affairs at Seton Hall University. “A Republican couldn’t get elected in Newark if he was standing on a corner handing out $1,000 bills. You could argue places up in Hunterdon and Warren counties are pretty insular with similar voting patterns also.”

The Orthodox community in Lakewood votes as a block and represents more than 50 percent of the population. It effectively controls the votes to hold sway over the township council and school board.

“The fact is, New Jersey is a machine politics state,” said Hale. “Little machines control votes and voting lines all over the state.”

Students of the East Ramapo School District hold a sign during the One Voice United Rally in Albany in 2013, protesting about the decade-long control of the East Ramapo public schools by the Orthodox community, which do not use the public schools but made deep cuts in teachers and programs. (Shannon DeCelle | AP file photo)

3) Have the issues in Lakewood played out anywhere else?

The East Ramapo Central School District in New York, 30 miles north of Manhattan, has gone through a similar transformation.

There, the Orthodox turn out to vote in strong numbers to defeat school budgets that could increase taxes, while electing members of the Orthodox community to the board. Parents of children in the public schools have accused the school board of making cuts in classroom education and extracurricular activities, to divert public resources to private Orthodox schools.

As in Lakewood, Ramapo residents opposed to the Orthodox control complain about the forces propelling what was a quiet New York suburb into a one of high-density living.

The fight in East Ramapo was documented on This American Life, the public radio show, which described a “volatile local political battle” that erupted after Hasidic residents, who have to pay local property taxes like everyone else—even if their kids did not attend the local schools— took control of the school board.

Elsewhere, there is similar anger over the influx of Orthodox families into parts of Toms River and Jackson Township in New Jersey, Bloomingburg in New York, and a group of Hasidic families moving into an African-American neighborhood in Jersey City.

Lakewood Mayor Raymond Coles, left, sitting alongside Deputy Mayor Menashe Miller. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

4) What are the politics of Lakewood?

Lakewood swings Republican. Trump won with 74 percent of the vote. Christie won with 84 percent. The town is run by a five-member committee serving three year terms. Three are Orthodox Jews. There are three Republicans and two Democrats. All are white men.

But some believe the true power in town is the Vaad, a religious council of Orthodox men, headed by Rabbi Aaron Kotler, which serves as an unofficial advisory group to the community. They unofficially endorse candidates and push for town policies to benefit yeshivas, school owners and private developers.

Critics say Lakewood has outgrown the five-member town committee form of government, which appoints its own mayor and has at-large members. They say it needs a city government (like Newark and Jersey City), with a direct-elected mayor and wards, so one dominant ethnic group can’t dominate the government and smaller neighborhoods get representation.

Students get off the bus at the Yeshiva K’tana on 2nd St. in Lakewood. (David Gard | For NJ Advance Media)

5) What has been the impact of the Orthodox community on Lakewood?

The biggest hit has been on the school budgets. Under New Jersey law, communities are required to bus kids to private schools more than two miles away. But with 30,000 kids in private yeshivas in Lakewood, the costs of busing have grown out of control.

The state is giving $2.4 million a year to Lakewood until 2018 to solve the busing problem under legislation signed by Gov. Chris Christie. In 2014, the state appointed a fiscal monitor to oversee Lakewood’s school district and its budget deficit. But the cost of courtesy busing is keeping the district in the red, say critics.

Questions have also been raised about whether local construction and housing ordinances have been ignored to make room for Orthodox growth, in a town where the government is also controlled by the religious community. Lakewood has approved 1,200 new houses and 400 units in two years.

6) If others in the township are being affected, why doesn’t the state step in?

New Jersey law does give the state the ability to go into a district like Lakewood, and it has appointed a monitor who has oversight and ultimate say on how the money is spent.

“The problem in New Jersey is even when you have the monitor, the politics are intense,” said David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, which advocates for the education rights of public school children.

With a board that is controlled by a constituency that supports private education, he said Lakewood should not have control of busing and special education expenditures. At the same time, he complained that the Christie administration has been “hands off” on Lakewood, even though the monitor is there.

“The monitor might exercise his authority, but he has to have the backing of the governor and legislature. There’s going to be political pushback,” he said.

The Lakewood Board of Education provides courtesy busing to private schools, but with 30,000 kids in those schools, costs have spiraled out of control. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

7) What, if anything, should the state do?

Sciarra said Lakewood needs to stop diverting funds to pay for an extraordinary number of children using private school transportation.

“The monitor should stop the subsidization of transportation out of the schools’ budget because it’s diverting funds out of public education,” he said.

If the state wants to subsidize private transportation, then the state should provide state funds, Sciarra suggested.

Michael Azzara, the fiscal monitor appointed by the state to oversee Lakewood’s finances, did not return calls to comment.

The next step, Sciarra said, depends on the political will of the next governor, noting that the state Supreme Court has made it clear over and over again that the state has the final say in insuring that children receive a “thorough and efficient” education.

“The state has the ultimate responsibility, which cannot be undermined by local school boards and the local political process,” he said. “In Trenton. That’s where the power lies.”

A new housing development off Broadway Ave. in the south part of the town. The town has approved 1,200 new houses and 400 units in two years. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

8) How will Lakewood’s rapid development growth play out?

Pfeiffer said continued tensions among the communities, both within Lakewood and the surrounding municipalities, are likely.

“The outcomes of the current law enforcement investigations, school interventions, and land use concerns may contribute to new policies that respond to the pressures the yeshiva has introduced on the region,” he said. “Yeshiva leadership may feel it necessary, that despite its influence, to reconsider its growth plans as public resistance to continued growth may come at too great a disruption to the region’s civic environment and risk to the institution’s reputation.”

That said, he said it seems clear that continued, unabated growth will create new challenges for the region that will continue to stress political, civic, economic, and cultural institutions and systems, “the outcomes of which cannot be predicted today.”

In the hallways of Beth Medrash Govoha. (Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

9) How does the Orthodox community see the future in Lakewood?

What brings so many Orthodox families to Lakewood is Beth Medrash Govoha, which opened with 15 students in 1943 and has grown into one of the biggest yeshivas in the world, in part because of its distinctive teaching style.

Rabbi Kotler, president of the yeshiva, sees parallels to the Orthodox presence in Lakewood and to Princeton University.

“We kind of watch what they do and how they do that. What has really changed for us here in Lakewood, unlike Princeton, is that so many of our alumni and their families are living in Lakewood and setting up their businesses here,” he said. “Lakewood kind of became a destination in and of its own way.”

(Aristide Economopoulos | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

10) Where is the next Lakewood?

While many see parallels of Lakewood in Rockland County’s East Ramapo, where many of the same issues have played out in recent years, the community in Lakewood is expanding beyond the town’s borders.

People in Toms River, Jackson, Howell and Brick have complained about getting harassed by Orthodox real estate brokers who knock on their doors and encourage them to sell their houses because Haredi Jews are moving in. Several towns have “no-knock” ordinances because of it.

Further to the north in Mahwah, meanwhile, residents are fighting the installation of an “eruv.” A physical line that is often a line or thin piping along utility poles, an eruv symbolically extends the private domain of Orthodox households into public areas, allowing activities within it that are normally forbidden in public on the Sabbath, such as pushing a baby carriage.

Comments on a petition circulating on-line, some overtly anti-Semitic, suggest the opposition is not so much to the presence of the eruv, but that Mahwah would be transformed into another Orthodox-dominated community, such as nearby Monsey, N.Y.

Staff writer Kelly Heyboer contributed to this report.

Ted Sherman may be reached at tsherman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @TedShermanSL. Facebook: @TedSherman.reporter. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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Jackson, NJ Board Members Resign After Allegations of Religion-Based Zoning Rulings

LAKEWOOD –

Three members of Jackson Township boards dealing with development have tendered their resignations, following the release of recordings of their attendance at a meeting aimed at stopping the construction of a housing project geared towards Orthodox Jews.

Controversy began after an anonymous leak to local officials and media surfaced that Richard Egan, who was a member of Jackson’s Planning Board, and Sheldon Hofstein and Joseph Sullivan who served on its Zoning Board, were present at what was labeled as the town’s inaugural CUPON meeting. CUPON (Citizens United to Protect Our Neighborhoods) has been active in New York’s Rockland County for some time, largely focusing on efforts to oppose the growth of the Orthodox community there.

The meeting was held two weeks ago at Jackson’s Miller Road Fire House and was reportedly attended by some 28 residents. Included on its written agenda was discussion of an upcoming Planning Board application for Jackson Trails, a development for more than 460 homes and a shul in an area of the town near the border with Manchester Township, far from the area of Jackson that borders Lakewood, and which is already home to several hundred Orthodox families.

Very brief clips of a recording of the meeting, released through the Lakewood Scoop, feature the three men acknowledging that their presence at the gathering must be kept secret.

“We’re not supposed to be here,” Mr. Hofstein said. “Nobody saw us.”

“We didn’t sign in, we’re neutral like invisible,” said Mr. Egan.

“We weren’t here,” said Mr. Sullivan.

A source who has listened to the entire audio recording but requested anonymity, told Hamodia that all three took an active part in conversations strategizing to block Jackson Trails’ application.

The planning meeting held four days later was attended by some 175 residents. Just before it commenced, Gregory McGuckin, who serves as an attorney for Jackson as well as being its assemblyman, approached Mr. Egan and asked that he recuse himself from taking part in the meeting.

Presumably under pressure from town officials that their continued participation would throw a further pall over the town’s zoning and planning decisions, Mr. Egan and Mr. Sullivan submitted their resignations this past Friday, and Mr. Hofstein added his on Monday.

Robert Nixon, who serves as president of Jackson’s Town Council told Hamodia that he welcomed the resignations.

“Council was surprised and disappointed at the allegations made recently against members of our Planning and Zoning Boards and we support their decision to step down,” he said. “The focus of the Zoning and Planning Boards have always been, and must only be, on the law governing land use and Jackson’s Master Plan.”

Zoning Board appointments are made by the town council, and those to the Planning Board are made by the town’s Mayor, Michael Reina.

Jackson has struggled to keep its town boards staffed in recent years, following a series of scandals. Robert Burrows, a former Zoning Board member, has been the author of several online anti-Semitic tirades. In 2017, Larry Schuster was forced to resign after anti-Semitic and other offensive comments he made online were discovered, only weeks after Anthony Marano was forced from the board over an arrest for possession of illicit materials and resisting arrest.

At the time, members of the council called for more rigorous background checks to be made before admitting applicants to serve on town boards.

The recent resignations could complicate Jackson’s ongoing legal woes as well. In 2017, the town was sued by the Agudath Israel of America, which claimed that ordinances that banned the construction of new schools and eruvinwere motivated by bias against the Orthodox community.

Officials had entered into arbitration, but negotiations stalled and a trove of emails revealed by a FOIL request between the mayor and council members seemed to reveal that talks were little more than a stalling tactic. The cases are currently moving forward.

Prior to the Agudah’s action, Jackson had been sued by Oros Bais Yaakov over the township’s denial of its application to build.

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NJ Enabling Irresponsible Budget from Wholly Unreliable Lakewood School District and its Overpriced Attorney

Lakewood schools reopen, banking on $36 million loan from NJ

LAKEWOOD – A shutdown that forced about 1,000 special education students to stay home Monday has ended and the Lakewood Public School District is open for business on the promise of a $36 million loan from the state.

The district was shuttered for a single day after the school board reversed course, unanimously voting to void a budget it had passed a week earlier to avert a shutdown. Without a budget, no money could be spent, according to school board attorney Michael Inzelbuch.

Inzelbuch blamed the shutdown on the state, but critics of the district are pushing back calling the closure a stunt.

Gov. Phil Murphy had slated an additional $30 million to go to Lakewood, but when the Legislature drafted its budget it axed the funding. District leadership refused to sign off on the $171 million budget without knowing where that $30 million would come from, saying it was necessary to provide a thorough education and balance the books.

But even without the $30 million, the district receives other revenue that it could have used to keep doors open Monday, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center. Among those other sources are $102 million in local tax levy and tens of millions in other state aid, according to the district’s budget.

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Lakewood, NJ – the financial Pillaging of a Bucolic Little Town’s School District Using the Ultra-Orthodox Yeshiva Handbook

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Lakewood schools to close? Parents told to make ‘alternate plans’

Above: What can be done to improve relations between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities?

LAKEWOOD — The township’s public schools may close Monday as a result of the financial pressures facing the district, where officials say money will run out before the end of the next school year.

Administrators said on the district website that parents should make “alternate plans” for their children. School leaders called it a “precautionary measure” due to the “unknown fiscal situation.” 

Last week, the Lakewood school board approved a 2019-20 budget that the district doesn’t have the money to fund. Its lawyer and several administrators also went to court Wednesday to plea for help, saying the district cannot afford to keep schools open beyond March.

Special education and transportation account for about 40 percent of the public schools’ expenses. The district enrolls about 6,000 students, but also is responsible for costs of transportation and certain services for Lakewood’s more than 30,000 private school children.

Administrators have sought Trenton’s help in closing the school district’s growing budget holes, using combinations of grants and loans.

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Lakewood, NJ Pool Segregation Rules Adjudicated Unlawful by 3rd Cir. Judge

Correction: The initial title of this article read “2nd Cir.” It should have read 3rd Cir. Thanks to the person who caught the mistake.  Corrected 24.4.19

Judges rule sex-segregated pool schedule unlawful at condo in Lakewood, NJ

While they stopped short of ruling that any gender-segregated pool is unlawful, one of them expressed “vehement disapproval of segregation” over the “separate, but equal” policies.

Swimming pool. Credit: Max Pixel.

Swimming pool. Credit: Max Pixel.

 The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found on Monday that a condominium’s sex-segregated pool time policy in the heavily dominated New Jersey neighborhood of Lakewood discriminated against women.

The court ruled for a group of owners who sued after each were fined $50 by their condominium association for violating the rules of A Country Place Condominium Association about the pool that includes separate swimming times for men and women in accordance with strict modesty standards upheld by Orthodox Jews, who consist of two-thirds of the association’s residents during of the 2016 lawsuit.

The judges said the policy violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination and the federal Fair Housing Act, which “makes it an unlawful housing practice to “discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin.

The judges said “inequitable features” in the swimming schedule was unlawful in that on weeknights, women were allotted 3.5 hours of pool time after 5 p.m., while the men had 16.5 hours. Only 25 hours were allocated for people of all sexes.

Judge Thomas Ambro ruled that “women with regular-hour jobs thus have little access to the pool during the work week, and the schedule appears to reflect particular assumptions about the roles of men and women.”

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