Last November, at a national convention of Agudath Israel of America (AIOA), Rabbi Shmuel Lefkowitz decreed Brooklyn Orthodox Jewish community to become “schtickle pioneers”, to move out of their basement apartments in Brooklyn and to settle in towns like Jackson, Toms River, Brick and Howell.
Lefkowitz is a leader and trustee of AIOA, the organization which serves a leadership role and policy maker for America’s Heredi (Orthodox) Jewish community. Lefkowitz, Vice President of Community Affairs holds a prominent and influential role in the organization.
In Hebrew, the word schtickle refers to something of second class. In the term schtickle pioneer, as it pertains to Lakewood, means to settle in second class surrounding towns, in the hopes that enough growth would ‘turn around’ those communities.
At the convention, held last November 12th, Lefkowitz urged younger members of the Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn to uproot from their small rental apartments and settle in regions outside of Lakewood, including Jackson, Toms River, Brick and Howell. Lefkowitz identified these would be religious pioneers as “schtickle pioneers”. These pioneers would settle in a loop that encircles Lakewood.
Lefkowitz said that the decision to settle around Lakewood was not new, but takers were hesitant to “jump” at the opportunity.
While Lakewood is the most attractive destination in Ocean County to the Orthodox Jewish of Brooklyn, Lefkowitz said the reality of poor families moving to large homes in Lakewood may not be attainable due to pricing and availability. Few in the community are selling their homes, so Lefkowitz urged those settlers to settle for second best and to wait for the growth to catch up to them in the Lakewood loop.
He promised future rewards for those willing to take the risk.
“How do you that? One of the problems I have seen over the years is that young families are not ready to become schtickle pioneers,” Lefkowitz said. “It’s almost silly to think that people would not jump at the opportunity.”
Lefkowitz admitted that when AIOA began urging Brooklyn Jewish years earlier to resettle in Ocean County, it was a hard sell, but now through educational opportunities, he said the settlement of towns in neighboring communities is advancing at a healthy pace.
“One of my children bought in Coventry Square in the late 1990’s for $70, 000,” he said. “The blocks were not that great, it was a mixed crowd…my daughter asked me what do I think, I said jump. Two years later they sold for $190,000 and moved on to a bigger house.”
Now, Lefkowitz sees those towns surrounding Lakewood, which he referred to the “heart of the neighborhood” as prime settlement and investment opportunities.
“If you want to be 100% guaranteed and have it ready for you, it’s not going to happen,” Lefkowitz said. “But buy anything, you have to be a schtickle pioneer…buy a co-op, a condo, a house, but buy anything.”
“Those people that take the opportunity and be the schtickle pioneer, they are going to gain and everyone else is going to be sitting by, still living in a basement in Brooklyn and struggling in that little apartment,” he added.
Lefkowitz said Brooklyn’s Orthodox should have their eyes set on “turning around” neighboring communities in the Lakewood loop like past pioneers had “turned around” Lakewood, meaning creating a majority Orthodox community.
“Lakewood is the same thing, we gotta keep reaching out to Brick, Toms River, Howell and Jackson,” he said of the expansion into towns in the loop. “There are developments where goyem (non-Jewish) live, there are no Yiddim (Jewish) there yet. All these housing developments…they could turn it around…there are a lot of other opportunities for people to take that jump.”
“Look for housing that is doing poorly,” he suggested, citing that’s how the town of Monsey, New York was “singlehandedly turned around” into an Orthodox majority community.
If schtickle pioneers cannot buy existing homes at affordable prices, Lefkowitz urged developer to build large, low income housing developments under New Jersey’s affordable housing laws.
“The atmosphere in many towns in New Jersey and New York is extremely anti-Semitic,” he added. “You need a few hundred units sometimes to develop in order to make a community.”
He said New Jersey’s Mount Laurel decision benefits the schtickle pioneers heading to Ocean County because it requires New Jersey towns to allow the construction of affordable housing.
“In New Jersey, it is a little easier. While we had a democratic governor, it was quite easy,” he said of building low income housing. “Things were going very well, now under a Republican administration, Christie; some of these things are going away.”
But why does the migrating Orthodox population in Ocean County require settlement of entire blocks and entire neighborhoods? The answer, according to speakers at the convention lies in political power.
“Orthodox households are home to 64% of the Jewish community in the New York area,” Motzen said. “Heredi birth rate is three times that of the non-Orthodox world, we are growing and with that comes opportunities for political power…to fulfill our needs for our community.”
While Lefkowitz focused on the responsibility of Heredi to settle these communities, Motzen focused on the political growth of the Orthodox migration to Ocean County.
“Is it better to have a block vote?” he asked.
How does the migrating population assert political control? To vote as a block and to elect Orthodox politicians.
As much as 58% of the Orthodox community votes Republican according to Motzen. He said members of the community often ask for his guidance on political power.
“Is it better for us that now Republicans are paying a lot of attention to our community?” he said. “Should we be trying to identify with a party each year or should we be a swing vote? Let them buy our vote and chase our vote. Let them do something for us so we can vote for them.”
Chaskel Bennet, AIOA Board of Trustees said voting in blocks in important to the Orthodox community, “If we don’t vote we don’t matter,” he said. “It’s not a cheap phrase, it’s not a cliché. It is the truth.”
Michael Fragin, an Orthodox political consultant said in his experience in New York, local elections have been determined by those who vowed to block the growth of the Orthodox community.
“It’s a climate that is incredibly hostile to the Orthodox community,” Fragin said. “Right now, we’re looked at as a special interest…as a group that really doesn’t care about everyone else…that we’re not interested in governing in a way that cares about everyone else.”
“It’s nonsense, absolute and utter nonsense,” he said. “It’s how people see our community and we have to get out from under this. We have to learn how to counter this by better messaging. There’s nothing like having an elected official who is not just familiar with your community, but he’s part of their community. They can be a champion for you.”
“Control of the levers of government, not from the outside, but from the inside is really important,” Fragin said. “Other ethnic minority groups have done this successfully and there’s no reason the Orthodox community should not be permitted to also take a seat at the table.”
The timing of the edict to by the AIOA to settle in Ocean County coincided with aggressive real estate tactics employed by some Orthodox based real estate firms based out of Lakewood.
In the months after the conference, aggressive purchasing led to towns in the Lakewood loop enacting stricter real estate soliciting legislation, including no-knock ordinances and door to door bans on soliciting in some areas of Toms River.
The edict also seems to correlate with the spike in homes being purchased in Jackson and Toms River by LLC’s based out of Lakewood and Brooklyn.
The sharp increase forced Jackson Township legislators to beef up an existing landlord registry ordinance, requiring landlords to register with the township when investment homes are rented to tenants.
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