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February 5, 2020 1:14 pm

Antisemitism Rears Its Ugly Head in Jackson, New Jersey

avatar by Ronn Torossian


A road in Jackson, New Jersey. Photo: Famartin via Wikimedia Commons.

Against the backdrop of rising antisemitism in America, I was surprised when Dr. Richard Roberts, a major GOP donor who gave over $1 million to the Trump campaign sent me an open letter he sent to the mayor of Jackson, New Jersey, in which he accused the township government of antisemitism.

As has been the case throughout history, this scandalous situation is due to the fact that some people just can’t stand to have Jews living next door.

For some time, due to rising housing costs in New York City, Orthodox and Haredi Jews have been moving to the New Jersey suburbs. Along the way, they’ve helped raise the standard of living and real estate values in their communities, but they’ve also been met with the usual hatred and xenophobia, including, it seems, from the local Republican Party.

Enter Dr. Roberts. He’s a noted philanthropist and advocate for the Jewish community in New Jersey. As the former owner of a pharmaceutical company, he’s been blessed with wealth but also the character to share it. He sponsors a synagogue, throws local carnivals, and helped fight anti-vaccination sentiments in the Haredi community.

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He’s also been a strong advocate for the causes he believes in. He served as Vice Chair of the Israel Advisory Committee for the Trump campaign and has donated to the political campaigns of Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator Rand Paul, Governor Scott Walker and former Congressman Allen West.

In other words, when Roberts starts warning about political antisemitism, this isn’t someone crying wolf. He’s a political veteran, and he knows what he’s talking about.

And his evidence is damning. In his letter to me, Roberts produced documents via Freedom of Information act requests, showing that local Jackson Township employees and elected officials haven’t just expressed antisemitic sentiments, they conducted “surveillance of Orthodox Jews gathering for a minyan.”

“Township employees looked into home windows to see if Orthodox Jews were praying, walked into the backyards of residential properties to see if Orthodox Jews were praying in a swimming pool hut or garage, checked license plates, and followed Orthodox Jews who were carrying ‘bibles,’” he said, to my surprise and shock.

“The actions of Jackson Township have been atrocious,” Roberts told me. “We don’t need to pray in a synagogue. We can pray in a parking lot, office, home, airport, or wherever else we are. The idea that Jackson Township officials were performing organized surveillance on Orthodox Jews, to stop us from praying in homes, is obnoxious.”

“Jackson Township emails reveal that Jackson Township officials, and other employees knew Jewish praying times and staked out multiple blocks to count Orthodox Jews going into homes to pray at those times,” he said.

This isn’t just disturbing, it’s downright chilling. And it gets worse.

Earlier this month, Facebook temporarily removed a page which was harshly antisemitic called “Rise Up Ocean County,” where media reports indicate disturbing language to criticize the largely Hasidic community, including, “I would trust a rat before a Hassidic [sic].” Another comment said, “We need to get rid of them like Hitler did.”

This came after New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal called on Facebook to take action against the group.

Some Jackson residents and politicians are claiming that Jews are taking over the neighborhood, forcing life-long residents to move out. This is an old, tried and true slander that’s been used against Jews for centuries. It’s also not true.

The reality, as Roberts noted, is “when Orthodox Jews move in, the basic principle of supply-and-demand results from the nature of the Orthodox Jewish religious lifestyle. We need to be clustered together because we need the infrastructure of kosher food, religious schools, praying with at least ten men three times per day, and not driving on the Sabbath.”

“Since we must live in close proximity to each other, the demand for houses rises sharply in such areas so house prices spike upward and non-Jews make a lot of money for themselves by selling their homes,” he added. “These factors are also what Jackson Township is attacking – praying together, schools, and other aspects of Orthodox Jewish life (eg. eruv).”

Of course, if someone doesn’t want to sell their home, they don’t. It’s called supply and demand.

But this isn’t about housing prices or the cost of living, or even about communal identity. It’s about simple racism and shameful behavior. The truth is that some people in Jackson don’t want Jews around. Let’s hope Dr. Roberts succeeds in defeating them.

I think he will, because he already is. He’s already met with top national Republican leaders on the issue and strongly believes their going to take action.

In an interview with Shore News, Roberts said, “Regarding the Jackson Township government passing ordinances to block Orthodox Jews from practicing our religion, and harassing Orthodox Jews who are trying to pray, I think that senior Republican leadership will find it to be appalling.”

“I have been a member of the NRSC, NRCC, RGA, and NRC for many years and I have been a major donor to those organizations,” he added. “I have attended many Republican Party events, including where I have been the only Orthodox Jew in the room, and I have never sensed anything except acceptance and dedication to treating everyone with dignity.”

That’s exactly what’s lacking in Jackson, New Jersey: Basic American values of acceptance and dedication to treating everyone with dignity. It’s time for the national Republican leadership to join Dr. Roberts and make sure they’re respected in Jackson too.

Ronn Torossian is a public relations executive.

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