The fight over the eruv in northern Bergen County slowly escalated this week. Opponents in Mahwah didn’t back down, even as supporters filed suit in federal court and attracted new allies.
Last Thursday night, the Mahwah township council met and voted to begin issuing summonses against the eruv for violating the township ordinance against placing signs on utility poles. The 200 residents at the meeting greeted the unanimous vote with applause.
The council postponed votes on two matters related to the township’s relations with the Orthodox Jewish communities on the other side of the New Jersey/New York state line. One measure, which was tabled indefinitely, would have added a new position, police director, to the town’s payroll. That was an apparent rebuke to Police Chief James Batelli, who had refused to enforce a new ordinance banning out-of-state visitors from using the town’s parks. Mr. Batelli had said that the ordinance was illegal and unconstitutional because it was a response to chassidic Jews from nearby Rockland County using the parks. He was backed up in that assessment by Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal, who ordered him not to enforce the ordinance.
The other measure was tabled for only two weeks, with the intention that it be redrafted. This ordinance would restrict door-to-door solicitations in town. Reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews seeking to buy houses have sparked similar no-knock ordinances in Rockland County and in towns surrounding Lakewood, in central New Jersey.
On Friday, the day after the town meeting, lawyers for the eruv filed suit in federal court in Newark asking for an injunction against the town, barring the town from removing the CVC tubes affixed to the utility poles that demarcate the eruv.
The suit accused the township of “succumbing to fear, xenophobia, and religious animus” in opposing the eruv.
A similar suit against Upper Saddle River is now on hold, after that town agreed not to act against the eruv without giving a week’s notice.
In Teaneck, on Sunday night, Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin promised to get Muslim support for the eruv’s legal fight. “I will make sure Muslim organizations file amicus briefs along with the eruv community,” he said, speaking at a rally against hate. (See cover story, page 18.)
Jewish organizations had filed amicus briefs in the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge’s legal battle against Bernards Township, which had opposed its application to build a mosque. The township finally approved the mosque earlier this month, after a court victory that awarded it $3.25 million in damages.
Mr. Hameeduddin said that the tone of the opposition to the eruv was abhorrent, and reminiscent of the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Hate “didn’t just happen in Virginia,” he said.
“Read the Bergen Record about what’s going on in Mahwah right now,” he said. “Read the comments that are on the page and what they are saying” about chassidic Jews.
In Mahwah, as in Charlottesville, the battle hasn’t been waged just with words. The white plastic pipes that demarcate the eruv were broken on several utility poles in the township. The Mahwah police are investigating the vandalism as a hate crime. A similar incident of vandalism last month has not been solved.
On Monday, Mahwah’s mayor, Bill Laforet, announced a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever vandalized the eruv. “It’s coming out of my pocket,” he said.
“I know this is not the values of my community,” he continued. “This is our second hate crime. I want to make sure that people understand the gravity of the situation. There are consequences to this.”
At last Thursday’s town meeting, Mr. Laforet had spoken out against issuing summons to the eruv. “There was some organizational conversations going on that were driving to a solution of some sort,” he said.
The mayor of Mahwah is not part of the township council.