The PVC of The New Anti-Semitism

There’s a silly war going on in northern New Jersey, places with funny names like Mahwah and less-funny names like Upper Saddle River, over whether a piece of PVC pipe attached to a telephone pole is a sign, and as a sign, subject to local building codes. But the war sounds far less silly when you realize the claims are silly only because they’re an obvious subterfuge for the “real” problem.

  • “Get those scum out of here.”
  • “They are clearly trying to annex land like they’ve been doing in Occupied Palestine. Look up the satanic verses of the Talmud and tell me what you see.”
  • “Our town is such a great place and if these things move in they will ruin it. They think they can do whatever the hell they want and we’ll be known as a dirty town if they move in. Please keep them out…”
  • “I don’t want these rude, nasty, dirty people who think they can do what they want in our nice town.”
  • “I don’t want my town to be gross and infested with these nasty people.”
  • “I do not want these things coming into my town and ruining it.”

These are the comment from a petition to rid Mahwah of the “eruv.” The what? 

For your reference, an eruv is a virtually invisible unbroken demarcation of an area which may be established by the attachment of wooden or plastic strips, called “lechis,” to telephone or utility poles. Jewish law prohibits the carrying or pushing of objects from a private domain, such as a home, to the public domain on the Sabbath and Yom Kippur. Based on the sincerely-held religious belief of certain observant Jews, without an eruv, they are unable to leave their homes on these days to attend services at synagogue or be with family and friends if they are, for example, pushing a baby stroller or wheelchair, or carrying things such as prayer books, keys, or medications. Thus, absent an eruv, certain observant Jews are deprived of the opportunity to participate in mandatory communal prayers and observances. Accordingly, a multitude of eruvin (the plural of “eruv”) have been established statewide and nationwide.

This may sound like a silly thing, but it’s been around for thousands of years and it matters enormously to observant Jews. You don’t have to believe. They do, and it’s their religion. You may well have “seen” the eruv, but never noticed, as it’s designed to be invisible. its boundaries marked by “lechis,” usually pieces of PVC pipe on poles that would be so insignificant as to catch no one’s eye but the person looking for it, for whom it matters. It’s a sign, but not that kind of sign.

Any legal question regarding eruvin has been conclusively settled, as every court to have considered the matter, including the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (governing New Jersey), has determined that the creation of an eruv, including through the utilization of public utility poles for the attachment of lechis, is a reasonable accommodation of religious practice under the Free Exercise Clause. See Tenafly Eruv Ass’n v. Borough of Tenafly, 309 F.3d 144, 176 (3d Cir. 2002); ACLU of N.J. v. City of Long Branch, 670 F. Supp. 1293, 1295 (D.N.J. 1987).

Initially, the mayors of the towns involved announced that they have no say over the eruv, and couldn’t do anything about it anyway. Then came the petition, and the comments, and the public outrage over how the eruv will bring these “dirty” people to their lovely communities. So local government kicked into high gear to rid their towns of the eruv, and with them, the Jews.

The brain trust kicked into gear, including banning non-residents from playgrounds. The police were instructed to go after Jewish children, but the chief refused and the local prosecutor advised that this would be unconstitutional.

Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir S. Grewal ordered the Mahwah Police Department on Thursday to ignore a new municipal ordinance banning non-state residents from township parks, calling the regulation a possible violation of constitutional rights.

How then to stop these horrible Jews from destroying their neighborhood with their Jewishness? Call the lechis a sign and ban it! So they held an emergency hearing, but with a twist. The meeting was putatively about the “illegal signs,” and they forbid, “under advise of counsel,” any mention of eruv, Jews or discrimination, as that could expose them to liability. And this wasn’t about liability, but prohibiting signs.

There were speakers at the meeting, Englewood Councilman Michael Cohen, East Coast Director of Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Holocaust survivor, who were told they could not speak to the eruv, the antisemitism, the obvious motivation for the meeting and the effort to pretend this was about signs, not Jews. There are videos of the meeting, unfortunately with poor sound quality, showing speakers being shut down lest they mention the meeting’s obvious purpose.

The rhetoric from the team protecting North Jersey from the Jews was far more official.

But Conrad O’Lear, legal counsel for the Facebook group Mahwah Strong, said its main allegiance is to the rule of law.

“The issue that has thrust this community into the spotlight has nothing to do with religion, preventing any race, color or creed from enjoying this wonderful town,” he said. “Very simply, this is an issue on enforcing an ordinance.”

Lisa DiGiulio, a former councilwoman, said the township “welcomes everybody,” but “we’re not going to change our laws, they have to abide by our laws.”

As allegiance to the rule of law, and not those dirty Jews who ruin their beautiful town, is what this is all about, they will no doubt welcome the ruling to the action filed pro bono by Weil, Gotshal and Manges. While the suit names Upper Saddle River, which is a step ahead of Mahwah in this war, it names, and will most assuredly apply to, the charade exposed by the silly town meeting.

It’s a curious time for Jews, given how the deeply passionate and tolerant social justice warriors have sided with BDS and decided that in the scheme of evil oppressors, Jews lose. Should they not lose in District of New Jersey federal court, perhaps it will be one reason to blame the Jews. Because it’s really got nothing to do with those “scum,” but the communicative value of a piece of PVC pipe on a telephone pole.

22 thoughts on “The PVC of The New Anti-Semitism

  1. Turk

    Oh the protestants hate the catholics
    And the catholics hate the protestants
    And the hindus hate the muslims
    And everybody hates the jews, but during

    National Brotherhood Week
    National Brotherhood Week, it’s
    National Everyone-Smile-At
    -One-Another-hood Week, be
    Nice to people who are
    Inferior to you
    It’s only for a week so have no fear
    Be grateful that it doesn’t last all year

  2. alanlaird

    This American Life did a piece on the Ramapo, NY school district Us vs Jews mess. Shady politics, sleazy lawyers (redundant?), reprehensible behavior, it’s all there. The first thing I do after reading your bit is Google, and yep, Ramapo is right next to Mahwah.

    By the looks of that graceful tactic of don’t-say-eruvin-its-all-about-signs-no-really seems like the Mahwah local government learned from Ramapo the way Intelligent Design goofs learned from creationists.

    1. SHG Post author

      So here’s my problem. I could now spend my time learning about what happened in Ramapo, since Ramapo has nothing to do (per se) with Mahwah, in order to figure out whether your comment is a good analogy or not.

      Is this what I feel like doing now? Will other commenters dispute your comparison or engage in a discussion of the merits of Ramapo? Did this become a post about Ramapo? And would I be a dick to mention that you’ve gone off topic? Inquiring minds want to know, but not inquiring enough that I plan to spend my Sunday figuring this out because you said so and decided my post was your platform to discuss Ramapo. Does anybody get this?

      1. Jill A.

        Yes, it makes perfect sense to me. The fear of living in a theocracy, even if democratically elected, is very strong.

        1. SHG Post author

          Fear is, indeed, very strong. Maybe we should appreciative that they’re not just shot down the street to protect you from your fear of theocracy.

      2. N. Freed

        This one isn’t difficult…

        In a nutshell, the Orthodox Jewish community in Ramapo, having taken control of the local school board, has behaved and is behaving in an absolutely disgraceful – and probably illegal – way, e.g., shutting down schools and selling them at reduced prices to folks who then use them as religious facilities, redirecting special education funds to private schools, etc.

        And this is now being used by racists everywhere to construct bogus “watch out or it will happen to you” arguments.

        But the situation in Mahweh is a bit different, because according to The Google, Mahwek and Ramapo are only 5 miles apart.

        So people in the area were understandably a bit on edge, so much so that those lechi might as well have been pipe bombs, the utter harmlessness of eruvim notwithstanding.

        Of course it doesn’t excuse the appalling behavior, let alone justify it.

        OTOH, even if they win in court I would not want to bet on their being able to maintain the integrity of their eruv, which is required for it to be useful.

        1. SHG Post author

          You had to go to Ramapo? There are eruvim across the coountry. There are Jews across the county. Ramapo has problems. So what?

    2. Emc

      It has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with what has happened just across the border. Fear of ending up like Ramapo, Airmont, Monsey Spring Valley and Chestnut Ridge, not to mention Lakewood. Towns and schools left in financial ruin.

      Mahwah has many Jewish residents and a synagogue that has never had any antisemetic issues.

      No mention in any news outlet of how the residents of mahwah and upper saddle river have been harassed by the same speeding 5 cars recklessly driving through residential streets nearly hitting people, getting yelled at when they try to go to the town parks, people loitering in front of their houses taking pictures, having people knock on their doors to buy their house and threatened when they say they won’t sell.

      Mahwah is not an antisemitic town, they just don’t like being bullied.

      In your blog you say the word Mahwah sounds funny. If I was to pick a Jewish word and say it sounded funny, I would be called antisemitic. Mahwah is the Native American word for “meeting place”. Nothing funny about it.

  3. LTMG

    How did townspeople notice the lechis, I wonder? Were they made of white PVC? If so, very noticeable. Black PVC pipe is available, and the exterior can be scuffed with rough sandpaper so it won’t shine in the light. A dull piece of black PVC attached to a utility pole would barely be noticeable by the easily affronted townspeople but the observant ones in the Jewish community could see the lechis if they knew what to look for.

    1. SHG Post author

      If you spend your time taking note of PVC of any color on telephone poles, you need to re-evaluate your life.

    2. Keith

      If I can be permitted a comment by way of background, this started with this comment in a private Facebook group of Mahwah residents. It then turned toxic quickly which is a pretty clear indication this was never about neutral application of a sign code.

      As an appointed official I regularly deal with application of NJ sign ordinances for applicants before my board.

      This issue was litigated and decided by the Third Circ. over a decade ago. One might think that application of a sign code would be an issue worthy of public comment when the sign code is on the agenda. Yet, when I attempted to read the pertinent section of the opinion to the Mahwah Town Council, I was prevented from doing so. The stated reason by their attorney was that quoting the precedent could lead to liability.

      I’m no lawyer, but I’m a fairly engaged citizen. And when mere comments by those you represent can bring liability upon you, it’s probably time to question whether that’s actually a neutral application of a sign ordinance or a direct reaction to antisemitism by those at the top.

  4. David Devejian

    OK, from a jewish family in Upper Saddle River: This is not entirely antisemitism. I wont deny that there are some ugly undercurrents here. They pop up every few years, usually when people feel their community threatened either via property values (ex: when a local golf course was sold to a developer who wanted to put up town homes rather than the zoned single family large lots, and thought he could use affordable housing requirements to force the town to change zoning, there were a number of conspiracy theories about the developer being backed by the hasidic community to the north of us) or through the schools (a fair bit of islamaphobic rhetoric came out when it was discovered that a middle school social studies text that covered world-religions, covered Islam in chapter nine, and the idea of jihad was discussed in section eleven. Granted, that was a bit tone-deaf on the publishers part, but the rhetoric was quite overboard.)

    On the other hand, most kids attend their fair share of bar and bat mitzvahs and no one batted an eye in a soccer coaches meeting last year when one of the coaches wanted to reschedule a game because he had to build a sukkah – the other coaches were happy to accommodate.

    As I said, we are rather protective of our schools and property values, and I say that fully aware of how often schools and property values have been used as an excuse in the past. On the other hand, when we look at what has happened to the towns and school boards across the NY-NJ border in towns like Monsey (this is presumably what a previous poster was alluding to in his references to “Ramapo”) there is legitimate reason to be concerned. Here is an article on it: (Ed. Note: Link deleted per rules.) Is there a strain of antisemitism that is revealed in many of these meetings? Absolutely. But that is not the entirety of the story.

  5. Lee

    Funny, but you would think this kind of discrimination would come from the Old South, not the Progressive Northeast. Just goes to show that there are idiots everywhere, I guess.

    I wonder if they are next going to ban the display of a cross on one’s yard during Easter? (Slippery slope and all that).


    1. SHG Post author

      The progressive northeast can take comfort in knowing that when it discriminates, it’s the good kind against Jews.

      1. Lee

        But how can a gentile boy from Texas tell the good Jews from the bad Jews?

        I mean, obviously, Scarlett Johansson and Mila Kunis are good Jews, but what about, say, Barbra Streisand? And what about Adam Sandler????

        I am so confused.


        1. SHG Post author

          Hell, even a New York Jew lawyer can’t tell the difference. I got a gig to have Scarlett Johansson pose naked in the Healey and turned it down. I had no clue who she was, so I asked if she was the star of the Danish version of Gone With The Wind. Then I learn she’s a good Jew. Who knew?

  6. B. McLeod

    Through the last couple of centuries, the deeply passionate and tolerant leftists have been as anti-Semitic as their rightist counterparts. This is simply a continuation of behavior and deeply-rooted prejudice that has nothing to do with Palestine.

Comments are closed.