JACKSON-A senior political advisor and a top financial donor to President Donald J. Trump has taken notice of the situation in Jackson Township, New Jersey where Republicans have been at odds with the growing Orthodox Jewish community. He is meeting with national party leaders on Wednesday to ask for their help in curbing what he described as anti-Semitism within the Jackson Republican Party. Roberts served as the Vice-Chairman of President Trump’s Israel Advisory Committee during his election campaign.
The announcement comes in the wake of an attack on Orthodox Jews in Jersey City, some 60 miles away from the Township of Lakewood that boasts the largest concentration of Orthodox Jews outside of Israel. Today, the Lakewood Police Department has also announced heightened security in the township in light of the attack in Jersey City.
Dr. Richard Roberts, of Lakewood, is a top national Republican donor who helped to finance President Donald J. Trump’s 2016 campaign as well as the political campaigns for South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Rand Paul, Governor Scott Walker and former Congressman Allen West. He said today he is traveling to Washington, D.C. to celebrate with the President and top GOP leadership at Trump’s annual Hannukah party to be held this evening and intends to bring up the matter of Jackson Township while he’s there.
Roberts said the growing wave of anti-Orthodox sentiment in Jackson Township, which appears to be driven by members of the town’s Republican Party leadership concerns him.
“I know that many Jackson residents do not believe in bigotry,” Dr. Roberts said. “I have heard great feedback by Orthodox Jews living in Jackson regarding the friendliness of their non-Jewish neighbors and vice versa. Orthodox Jews should be great neighbors.”
Roberts said that doesn’t appear to be the case with the leadership of the Jackson Republican Club who have targeted the growth of the Orthodox Jewish population in town. In a court deposition released to the media this week, Jackson Councilman Ken Bressi accused Jackson Republican elected officials of anti-Semitism including Councilman Robert Nixon, who resigned two weeks ago, Councilman Barry Calogero and Mayor Michael Reina. Mayor Reina today refuted Bressi’s comments as being based on opinion and not facts.
“Regarding the Jackson Township government passing ordinances to block Orthodox Jews from practicing our religion, and harassing Orthodox Jews who are trying to pray, I think that senior Republican leadership will find it to be appalling,” he said. “I have been a member of the NRSC, NRCC, RGA, and NRC for many years and I have been a major donor to those organizations. I have attended many Republican Party events, including where I have been the only Orthodox Jew in the room, and I have never sensed anything except acceptance and dedication to treating everyone with dignity.”
Roberts said on the campaign trail, national Republican leaders meet with him regularly in his home, including Graham, Paul, West, Walker and even former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton.
After reading anti-Semitic statements on Facebook by GOP leaders Clara Glory and Todd Porter, Roberts said their comments reflect negatively on the Republican party.
“Regarding the representatives to the Republican Party from Jackson making grotesque anti-Semitic comments on Facebook, if the Republican Party does not promptly sever them from our ranks then we will be handing low-lying-fruit to Democrats who will make this an issue,” he warned. “This has the potential to do great damage to our party and our country. Republican leaders in D.C. need to know about this ASAP. I intend to inform them tomorrow.”
Roberts said that despite the narratives published by groups such as Jackson Strong, living with Jews as neighbors is not something residents, or the Republican party here should fear. He recounted a tale of an elderly woman who, unlike her neighbors, refused to sell her home when offered much more than its actual value.
“In our neighborhood in Lakewood, an elderly Christian woman was asked why she didn’t take the highly elevated price for her home, which rose sharply when Orthodox Jews moved in, but instead decided to stay,” Dr. Roberts said. “She said ‘If I move, who will take care of me’. Her Orthodox Jewish neighbors looked after her every day, took in her garbage cans, their children brought her cookies and shoveled snow from her walkway (for free), and she knew that she was in a safe environment.”
Eventually, Roberts said most non-Jews who owned homes in Lakewood were not forced out, they sold their homes at over-market values and decided on their own to move. He also said earlier claims of “blockbusting” were not an accurate representation of what was going on in Jackson.
“The reason is the opposite of what Jackson Township claimed in their lawsuit that was thrown out of court: Blockbusting,” he said. “Blockbusting was a practice in the 1970’s where a black person would buy a home in a white neighborhood and the white residents would sell their homes in “fire sales” to flee. By contrast, when Orthodox Jews buy homes in an area, the selling prices of homes skyrocket. Many non-Jews sell because they want to take the profit.”
Jackson real estate is experiencing a real estate boom that is outpacing most of the state as home prices are beginning to increase after more than a decade of stagnant real estate values.
“If Jackson residents don’t want Orthodox Jews to move in then they don’t have to sell their homes,” he said. “But the “Jackson Strong” membership, who are supposedly dedicated to opposing Orthodox Jews moving in and refusing to sell their homes, are taking their profits and moving too. It’s difficult to oppose economic forces which, in this case, are now working to the benefit of non-Jewish residents of Jackson and at elevated costs to Orthodox Jews who want to move to Jackson.”
Roberts shed some light on the inner workings of the Orthodox Jewish community and explained why the community prefers to live in clusters to support their adherence to their religion.
“When Orthodox Jews move in, is the basic principle of supply-and-demand resulting from the nature of the Orthodox Jewish religious lifestyle,” he added. “We need to be clustered together because we need the infrastructure of kosher food, religious schools, praying with at least ten men three times per day, and not driving on the Sabbath. Since we must live in close proximity to each other, the demand for houses rises sharply in such areas so house prices spike upward and non-Jews make a lot of money for themselves by selling their homes. These factors are also what Jackson Township is attacking – praying together, schools, and other aspects of Orthodox Jewish life (eg. eruv).”
Roberts said that much of the concern in Jackson resonates from fear that has been perpetuated by groups like Jackson Strong and the Jackson Republican Club.
“The actions of Jackson Township have been atrocious. We don’t need to pray in a synagogue,” he said. “We can pray in a parking lot, office, home, airport, or wherever else we are. The idea that Jackson Township officials were performing organized surveillance on Orthodox Jews, to stop us from praying in homes, is obnoxious. Jackson Township emails reveal that Jackson Township officials, and other employees knew Jewish praying times and staked out multiple blocks to count Orthodox Jews going into homes to pray at those times.”
Roberts said that the actions of the local Republican party would rattle senior Republican leaders in Washington, D.C.
“Township employees looked into home windows to see if Orthodox Jews were praying, walked into the backyards of residential properties to see if Orthodox Jews were praying in a swimming pool hut or garage, checked license plates, and followed Orthodox Jews who were carrying ‘bibles’.”
Much of what Roberts cited has been published by way of various OPRA requests through the township and leaked court documents that have been published on the internet.
Roberts credited former Jackson Township Business Administrator Helene Schlegel for being one of the voices of reason within the Jackson Township government. When she warned the township that repeated harassment and investigations against Jewish families was not advised.
“We can’t keep chasing ghosts. It’s the same people and addresses every week,” Schlegel said. “We have other more serious issues, heroin drug houses, etc. I know that the possible shuls are a serious issue but the other issues are life-threatening and safety issues and are affecting many of Jackson’s youth and families.”
Roberts feels Jackson Township’s elected leaders are putting too much effort into the mission to prevent Jews from moving to their town and neglecting other aspects that have a more direct impact on quality of life for all residents.
“It appears that it has been more important to Jackson Township officials to keep Orthodox Jews from moving in then to protect Jackson citizens from heroin houses and other life threatening and safety issues,” Dr. Roberts said. “In my opinion, this is racism-gone-wild and gross misuse of the power of government.”