JACKSON-The township council of Jackson which has drafted a large number of ordinances aimed to curb the growth of Orthodox Jews here is now singing a different tune after it was issued a stern warning last month by New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino about its behavior and has come under increased scrutiny by Orthodox media outlets in New York City and New Jersey.
Porrino, after charging the city of Mahwah with civil rights violations issued a stern warning to Jackson, it could be next if it continued on the course it was heading.
At the last council meeting of November, the council spoke about residents coming together as one community and to end the divide that has been created by a small handful of residents in the township, who have been feeding off their fears and anger towards the influx of Orthodox Jews in the past two years.
“I ask all Jackson residents to be good neighbors to one another, respect each other’s beliefs and be tolerant of each other’s idiosyncrasies and let’s prove to everyone that Jackson Township is not only the second town in the state, but we’re the first at being good neighbors,” Councilman Barry Calogero said. Calogero was adamant in recent months in his support of ordinances that sought to restrict the growth of activities often thought to be associated with the Orthodox population, including dorm bans, no-knock ordinances and a recent ban on eruvin.
His comments were met with a lackluster round of applause from the audience.
Councilman Rob Nixon took a different approach. He blamed a small handful of Jackson residents for the misfortunes that currently besiege the embattled councilman and the township. He blamed anonymous Facebook groups and those who hide their names online for the huge cultural divide that currently exists in the township.
Nixon has been under a constant barrage of fire from Orthodox Jewish residents in Jackson and Lakewood and blamed social media for the movement against him.
Nixon said that the township is full of goodness, but exposed the underbelly of Jackson which is a vocal minority of residents who conceal their identities and take to Facebook each day to divide the township and create a rift between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox residents, instilling fear and panic in the community.
Many of those he called upon to come out of hiding were also the sources of hundreds of emails currently being reviewed by the Orthodox community and the Attorney General’s office, seeking to show a pattern that the township has thus far been influenced by their messages. Others are a new wave of Facebook users, presumably Orthodox residents countering the original anonymous watchdog and strong groups after years of being the target of countless private and perhaps illegal investigations and spying on Orthodox residents.
Nixon said the anonymity and animosity must stop now, in the wake of the new wave anonymous users now coming out against him.
“There’s always the vocal few who want to tear all that goodness apart, these are people who thrive on division, who enjoy playing people who are different against each other for their own benefit,” Nixon said. “I find it sad and I find it disgusting that we can’t have an honest communication like we’ve seen over the last year. With every angry and uninformed post on Facebook, they do harm to what makes Jackson great.”
“Social media has given an audience to the inflammatory including many people who don’t live here and post under false names. They try to make us less inclusive and more divided and that has to end,” Nixon said. “How it ends is it ends with all of us…We can’t allow the anonymous and ignorant among us to ruin that openness through ignorant comments.”
“With every angry and uninformed post on Facebook, they do harm to what makes Jackson great,” Nixon said. “Sadly not everyone will pay attention to this request for kindness…but if we all pledge to do what’s right, those voices will be reduced to the meaningless that they are.”
Rabbi Avi Schnall, who is spearheading a lawsuit by Agudath Isreal against the township for civil rights violations responded to the council’s attempt to bring peace to the community.
“A statement is a very nice gesture, but what is needed now is concrete actions to back such words up,” Schnall said in an interview with Hamodia news. “After seeing the ordinances that have been passed and reading hundreds of emails that confirm exactly what everyone thought they were about, you cannot blame the Orthodox community for feeling defensive. If the council wants to change that they have to right the wrong that’s been done. They are the ones who designed these ordinances, let them adjust them and speak through actions.”