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.”

Continue reading

With Resentment Jew Against Jew…The Upcoming Israel Vote and Similarities to Counties in NY and NJ

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CreditCreditSergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

How Jewish Should the Jewish State Be? The Question Shadows an Israeli Vote

JERUSALEM — For years, the resentment had been building.

In Israel, Jewish men and women are drafted into the military, but the ultra-Orthodox are largely exempt. Unlike other Israelis, many ultra-Orthodox receive state subsidies to study the Torah and raise large families.

And in a country that calls itself home to all Jews, ultra-Orthodox rabbis have a state-sanctioned monopoly on events like marriage, divorce and religious conversions.

A series of political twists has suddenly jolted these issues to the fore, and the country’s long-simmering secular-religious divide has become a central issue in the national election on Tuesday.

In a country buffeted by a festering conflict with the Palestinians, increasingly open warfare with Iran and a prime minister facing indictment on corruption charges, the election has been surprisingly preoccupied with the question of just how Jewish — and whose idea of Jewish — the Jewish state should be.

“I have nothing against the ultra-Orthodox, but they should get what they deserve according to their size,” said Lior Amiel, 49, a businessman who was out shopping in Ramat Hasharon. “Currently, I’m funding their lifestyle.”

This election was supposed to be a simple do-over, a quick retake to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a second chance to form a government and his opponents another shot at running him out of office.

Instead it has become what Yohanan Plesner, president of the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute, calls “a critical campaign for the trajectory of the country.”

Blame Avigdor Lieberman, the right-wing secular politician who forced the new election by refusing to join Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition with the ultra-Orthodox. The hill Mr. Lieberman chose to fight on was a new law that would eliminate the wholesale exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men to serve in the military.

Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers wanted to water it down. Mr. Lieberman refused to compromise.

It may have been a ploy to grab attention, but it struck a nerve. Almost overnight, Mr. Lieberman’s support doubled, and he became an unlikely hero to liberals.

For years, says Jason Pearlman, a veteran right-wing political operative, the two main axes of Israeli politics, religion and the Palestinians, had been “zip-tied” together. Mr. Netanyahu’s longtime coalition was just such a merger — right-wing voters, who favored a hard line toward the Palestinians, and the ultra-Orthodox, who promised a bloc vote in exchange for concessions on religious issues.

“What Lieberman did was to snap those zip-ties, popping the axes back apart,” Mr. Pearlman said.

Secular and liberal leaders from the left and center responded by effectively joining forces with the right-wing Mr. Lieberman against the prime minister’s ultra-Orthodox and religious-nationalist allies.

These rebels say that the mushrooming ultra-Orthodox population, with its unemployed religious students and large families subsidized by the state, is imposing excessive fiscal and social burdens on other Israelis. They are demanding more pluralistic options for marriages and conversions.

They were appalled that the ultrareligious parties were willing to grant Mr. Netanyahu immunity from prosecution, arguing that Mr. Netanyahu was buying his way out of jail by allowing Israel to be turned into a theocracy.

And they are furious at the growing influence of a quasi-evangelistic group of religious-nationalist Jews who espouse anti-feminist, anti-gay views and a far-right, messianic ideology.

“It’s becoming more and more alarming,” said Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Democratic Union party. “People are starting to feel threatened.”

The ultra-Orthodox parties insist that they are simply defending a status quo that dates to Israel’s founding and is meant to preserve study of the Torah by its most pious devotees. A compromise with Israel’s then-fledgling religious community gave Orthodox rabbis control over family and dietary laws, among other things, in exchange for their support for the new state.

The ultra-Orthodox now make up only 10 percent of eligible Jewish voters, Israeli pollsters say — compared with 44 percent who consider themselves secular — but they have kept and added to those concessions thanks to their ability to extract promises in exchange for their political support.

“We’re not becoming a smaller minority, we’re becoming a larger minority,” said Yitzhak Zeev Pindrus, a lawmaker from the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism. “But we’re trying to keep it the same way it is.”

The religious-nationalists dismiss the criticism of their intentions as anti-Semitic self-loathing.

“They’re on a hate campaign against anything that has a Jewish aroma to it,” said Eytan Fuld, a spokesman for the right-wing Yamina party.

 

To continue reading in The New York Times, click here.

 

It’s Not About Anti-Semitism, It’s About Keeping a Bucolic County’s Character Alive

Overdevelopment in Rockland County subject of contentious county legislature session

NEW CITY – About a dozen residents of Rockland County called on county officials to do something about overdevelopment. Many at Tuesday night’s contentious county legislature session blasted claims by County Legislator Aron Wieder that the criticism is centered on anti-Semitism, something the residents denied.

The issue boiled over when the county Republican Committee posted a “Storm is Coming” video last week, and flyers containing Nazi language and nails were placed on Clarkstown residents’ lawns.

In the end, the legislature did not formally pass any resolution condemning anything or anyone.

To continue to read the article in its entirety, click here.

Rockland County, New York and a Legislative Meeting with More Residents Outside Than Inside

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Speakers sound off at packed Rockland Legislature meeting, with hundreds still outside

NEW CITY — Tuesday night’s county Legislature meeting turned into a venting session for distressed community members, with speakers letting loose about legislators Aron Wieder and Laurie Santulli, unsustainable growth, anti-Semitism, a proposed summit to address divisiveness in Rockland and more.

“You want to fix the anger?” speaker Lauren Marie told the legislators. “Do your jobs!” She was later removed from the room for shouting at another speaker while many spectators rose and cheered for her.

The atmosphere was intense from early evening, with hundreds waiting on line outside to get into the 7 p.m. meeting. The Legislature’s auditorium quickly reached its capacity of 220 people, though, and officials estimated that another couple hundred people remained outside, behind locked doors. Sheriff’s deputies were all around, one with a police dog.

The Legislature, with 13 members present, opened the meeting by moving directly to public comment. The audience included several Orthodox and Hasidic men and women, but the overwhelmingly majority appeared to be non-Orthodox.

Many speakers began their remarks by noting that they were not anti-Semitic or that their concerns were not about religion. Speakers who warned against over-development and called for fair treatment for all received applause. Several speakers who tried to defend Wieder or the Orthodox community were interrupted or booed.

The Legislature wound up not officially discussing its two agenda items, which were moved to committee. One called for praising those who condemned a controversial video shared by the Rockland County GOP last week, which many condemned as anti-Semitic, and the second called for a community summit in 2020 to address the county’s tensions.

Several speakers did comment about the lack of a resolution requested by Santulli to censure Wieder. Santulli wanted Wieder censured for calling a Clarkstown blogger “the anti-Semite of Rockland County” after an Aug. 23 press conference and for comments Wieder made about state Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee at an Aug. 15 Ramapo Town Board hearing related to development.

To continue reading click here.

The GOP in Rockland “Fearing Takeover” is Supporting a DA Candidate Allied with the Same “Feared” – Stirring Hate Soup…

A storm is brewing in Rockland County, N.Y., a campaign ad says.

As dramatic music pulses in the background, the Rockland County Republican Party’s video first targets what the party considers overdevelopment in the county of about 329,000 people.

Then it takes a turn. County Legislator Aron Wieder, an Orthodox Jew who supports new housing developments, is “plotting a takeover” that threatens “our way of life,” the advertisement proclaims. After the video asks what’s at stake, the words “Our Families” are overlaid on a photo of a white, non-Orthodox couple and their children posing on a front lawn.

……..

Development, and how much of it is too much, recently has been a flash point in Rockland County. A town board meeting in Ramapo this month featured nearly two dozen speakers complaining that 220 planned housing units favored ultra-Orthodox Jews at the expense of secular residents, the Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported.

In March, Rockland County banned unvaccinated children from public spaces amid New York’s largest measles outbreak in decades. Day said during a news conference at the time that authorities would not search for unvaccinated children, but parents who were found to be in violation could be charged with a misdemeanor. The action came at a time when health authorities were raising concerns about decreased vaccination rates and measles outbreaks in communities including ultra-Orthodox Jews. An outbreak in Rockland “has mainly affected the Orthodox Jewish community in Spring Valley and Monsey,” the lohud.com news website reported.

To read the article in its entirety click here.

Tish James and the GOP…. and then There’s Aron Wieder, Ms. James Have You Ever Spoken to Concerned Rocklanders?

AG James, the video may seem disturbing, but perhaps you have not considered what is REALLY Happening in Rockland County. Allying with Aron Wieder is Almost an Oxymoron, and Supporting his Political Allies in Rockland is Degrading the Views of Those Who Have Legitimate Concerns, Whether GOP or Otherwise…

Just an Opinion

Tish James and GOP Video

It should be noted for the reading public that as far as LM is aware, AG James has NEVER come to Rockland County, New York and sat with the secular and non-Jewish community to get their take on events in Rockland County, which is largely a democratic county many of whom are in agreement with the GOP on these points. She has, however, visited with the ultra-Orthodox, as she was campaigning.

AG James has, most likely, not taken a look at the tax registers in Rockland County to see just how many houses in Rockland County are listed as LLC owned with numerous LLC’s registered to the same addresses, some of which are for-profit and some non-for-profit (church (synagogue) based so reduced reporting requirements and reduced taxes) and how much that situation (reduced taxes paid by those homes) is costing taxpayers in Rockland County.

AG James has NEVER taken a moment to consider the battle between those like Aron Wieder who favor religious education absent secular interference but who still demand funds from the State to pay for that education. To his credit Wieder did allegedly work to get his community vaccinated; but most of that community is still comprised of anti-vaxxers costing County taxpayers thousands if not hundreds of thousands in unnecessary healthcare costs, whether related to the measles outbreak or otherwise.

AG James has oversimplified a problem. If she really wants to benefit the communities of Rockland (everyone, not just the Democrats and more particularly the ultra-Orthodox who funded her campaign), which is a melting pot of many religious (including Jews who are not Hasidic), she should focus on the crime and corruption within Rockland.

The crime, corruption, political scandals and fraud are costing Rocklanders hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars. The payoffs of housing code reviewers, the use of Medicaid cards to buy food at Costco, the under-the-table payments to women who work in families in cash while also collecting Medicaid and foodstamps is an open secret in Rockland. Costco checkout people laugh about it amongst themselves.

Weighing in on this subject does nothing but give credence to those who are wholly ambivalent to the concerns of the greater Rockland County Community. That video may seem inappropriate and was both poorly contemplated, lacking in decorum and wholly fear-mongering; but it stems for somewhere. It should not be written-off as a deplorable political tactic. It should be understood for a deeper concern amongst Rocklanders. It comes from a very real concern, albeit largely unspoken. To write-it-off without considering the factual truths is to forsake those not depicted in that video and not responsible for its writing and dissemination, the voice of the “others” who have legitimate concerns, whether they funded AG James’ campaign or not.