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.