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Saturday, February 24, 2018

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In reading Justin Feldman’s op-ed (“A Fresh Perspective on the Mahwah Eruv,” August 3, 2017) in which he claims to have experienced anti-Semitism at a Mahwah town meeting, I would like to propose that perhaps he was observing a reasonable response to the eruv question. There are problems with eruvin:

(1) According to MyJewishLearning.com, an eruv is a symbolic demarcation of the private sphere. Many non-Jews and many secular Jews do not appreciate having their homes and properties included in an Orthodox Jewish private sphere, especially measured out with a physical wire.

(2) Often eruvin are put up with a unilateral decision made by the Orthodox community without going through due process or proper channels. Non-Jewish and secular Jewish residents often find out much later that this object that they don’t understand has been constructed, and they are justified in resenting it.

(3) Specific to Mahwah, the community borders Ramapo Township, New York (which includes Suffern, Monsey, Spring Valley and Chestnut Ridge), where there have been significant problems with the Orthodox community. I grew up in Ramapo Township, where my parents still live. In their advanced age they have become politically active in opposing actions of the local Orthodox community. They are secular Jews, so they are not motivated by anti-Semitism. The Orthodox community has the ability to control politicians as the rabbis instruct their congregations to vote for those who favor their agenda. They also get themselves elected to local school boards, with the objective of voting down school budgets. In Ramapo they have used this influence to buy township properties for pennies on the dollar. And they have severely damaged the school district. The high school I attended decades ago was one of the best in the state, and now it is a horror story. This affects property values. The value of my parents’ home has been severely compromised. And as the Orthodox community expands there is a tendency to harass other residents into selling. The harassment comes in the form of repeated unwelcome personal visits, and even parking cars in front of homes and honking horns on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath. When I visit my parents I see lawn signs that many homeowners have put up in response to this treatment. When residents have to resort to the defensive measure of putting up signs insisting that their homes are not for sale, this is an indication of a real problem.

Of course it is unfortunate that some people referred to Orthodox Jews as “these people” at the Mahwah meeting. But I feel that what Mr. Feldman may have perceived as anti-Semitism was the justified fear that Mahwah residents have of a bad situation they are witnessing just across the state line.

Rich Siegel

Teaneck