August 4 was the date the Township of Mahwah’s government had set for the South Monsey Eruv Fund to remove its eruv, made up of white PVC pipe lechis installed with permission by Orange & Rockland on its poles. With an emergency injunction in place, the eruvin that have been installed in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River are up and have been repaired after vandalism last week, so that Jewish residents in Airmont and Chestnut Ridge can move about freely on Shabbat. The planned completion of the eruv through Montvale has yet to happen, but that town has indicated its plans to fight it.
Mahwah initially claimed that the eruv violates a zoning ordinance prohibiting “signs” on trees, rocks or utility poles. Its town council, as well as the Upper Saddle River Town Council, now knows that the law is not on their side, neither in the federal Third Circuit, which covers New Jersey, nor in the federal Second Circuit, which covers New York. In both Tenafly and Westhampton Beach, the law has been tested and it is now a settled principle in federal law that lechis do not violate sign ordinances.
Individuals are now seeking to circumvent the legality of the eruv by any means necessary. Residents at recent meetings in both Mahwah and Upper Saddle River asked if burying utility poles was an option. Other suggestions involved outlawing all piping on public spaces. Volunteer lawyers are meeting to scrutinize town ordinances to think of ways to outlaw that which is legal.
The eruv issue is muddied by bias and hate against the growing Orthodox Jewish communities in Rockland County. We have hidden more hateful comments than we can count on our Facebook page this week. Countless posts regarding “dirty Jews” remind us of disgusting Nazi propaganda that we thought had been left well behind last century.
Apparently, Orthodox Jewish practice, unless it remains entirely invisible to the public, is not welcome in towns such as Mahwah and Upper Saddle River. We get it. At best, you guys like your poles pristine; that’s just how you roll. But how many utility poles and public spaces in Mahwah and Upper Saddle River have been used as postings for yard sales, sports leagues, real estate and even those seeking elected office in the past five years?
We also wonder why, if the lechis were approved by the utility company, their installation is meeting with such grievous disapproval from town officials, weeks after their installation. We’ve seen the record and know town leaders got the emails at the same time the police chiefs did. We know the police billed the South Monsey Eruv Fund for services rendered in assisting with the installation. Someone must have seen this paper trail before us.
If there had not been so much disgust, political bombast and organized attention to one specific group focused on this issue, we are certain the PVC pipe would have escaped notice.
Sadly, the town’s actions have spurred the most acrid toxicity toward Jews on social media that many of us have seen in our lifetimes. We encourage Mahwah’s, Upper Saddle River’s and even Montvale’s leadership to reconsider their decisions and muster the political will to change the conversation. In this nation, one is constitutionally permitted to practice his or her religious faith. For many, not just Jews, this is why we moved here (and by “here,” we mean America).
Many of us in Orthodox communities just minutes away from these towns use an eruv every week. We are inordinately thankful that our loving neighbors understand our right to free exercise of religion, just as we understand and support theirs. We are proud that our friends who attend churches and mosques stand with us on this. We stand together in saying hate has no home here.
We know now that hate can call Mahwah and Upper Saddle River home. Shamefully, that home-town recipe for hatred was stirred by nothing more than a piece of plastic pipe.