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Editorial: Lakewood Rabbis Should Reject Jackson Clergy Appointments

JACKSON-Community inclusion is great.  It’s something every town should actively engage in.  Municipalities should accommodate and make all residents feel welcomed and wanted.

That was the intended goal when Jackson Township Mayor Michael Reina appointed eight religious leaders to a new board of clergymen to assist residents in their time of need.

Six out of the eight appointments were people who are actively engaged with the Jackson community, pounding the pavement and part of the ever changing fabric of what makes Jackson Township.

Two however have caused the community to doubt its future once again after so much progress has been made between the schtickle pioneers of the Orthodox Jewish community and the greater Jackson community.

One rabbi, Mordechai Burnstein has been an open advocate on community building between the two communities.   He is seen regularly at township council meetings, meet the mayor events and other community events. He is always available for discussion to help Jackson residents understand and hopefully, accept his fellow Orthodox Jews who have decided to call Jackson home.

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Like the original settlers of the New World, our ancestors came to America for a new life, “Far from the reaches of kingdom and pope,” as penned by the wisdom of John Kay.

Same with the “schtickle pioneers” who chose to come to Jackson over the past few years.  They left their old lives to start new.  They came to Jackson for the same reason most of us ended up in Jackson.  To get away from it all, live a simple life in a nice neighborhood in a nice rural community.

5 rabbis were appointed, but three were appointed to represent the same 600 or so Orthodox Jewish households in town.   Mordechai Burnstein, who lives in Jackson and two others who are deeply entrenched in Lakewood and county politics received the nominations from the mayor.   The other two are Yankel Wenger and Israel Burstyn.

I consider Wenger and Burstyn friends of mine, hopefully after this editorial, they could still see it that way, but for me, Jackson comes first.   I met them both through JTOWN Magazine and covering events around the county.  They are both men of decent character and if they ever do decide to move to Jackson, I would completely welcome them as members of our township clergy, but since their appointment, residents in town, both Orthodox and non-Orthodox have wondered why?

It’s a big problem for a community that is trying very hard to become one community, bound by their similarities, not separated by their religions.  This is not to say there are nefarious intentions in play, but the goal of Jackson moving forward should be to have a clear and defined border between what is Jackson and what is Lakewood.

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While some use “Don’t become Lakewood” as an anti-Orthodox rallying cry, “Don’t become Lakewood” means just what it says.  When I moved to Jackson from Toms River in 2004, I could have moved to Lakewood…but I chose Jackson instead…for the same reasons most of the people here chose Jackson.

The blurring of the clear boundaries of both geographical and political lines between Jackson and Lakewood should never happen because it is that blurring that will eventually turn Jackson into Lakewood.

This was a political appointment under the guise of religious needs, but the religious needs of the Jackson Orthodox community have spoken loudly and clearly, they don’t need Lakewood rabbis representing them in their local government.  They seem quite happy with the appointment of Burnstein to represent those 600 families.

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For the sake of moving forward in the future and the future success of Orthodox and Non-Orthodox relations in Jackson, I would ask that Wenger and Burstyn reject their appointments to serve as Lakewood residents within the township government.  If they truly cared about Jackson being one community, they would respectfully decline this offer.


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