Council vote latest chapter in dispute with Orthodox Jews

  • Dec. 29, 2017 4:19 p.m.

MAHWAH, N.J. — A town facing federal and state lawsuits over ordinances alleged to discriminate against Orthodox Jews is poised to take a vote that could reshape the dispute.

Mahwah’s town council was expected to vote Thursday night on reversing a ban on out-of-state residents using the town’s parks. The ban was prompted by some town residents’ complaints about overcrowding at the parks and their use by Orthodox Jewish families coming from towns across the nearby New York border.

Earlier this month, the council reversed part of an ordinance that effectively banned eruvs, pieces of plastic piping attached to utility poles that serve as boundary markers delineating areas where Orthodox Jews can carry items and perform some activities during their Sabbath.

The lawsuits allege those measures are an attempt to keep Orthodox Jews from New York’s Rockland County out of Mahwah.

The lawsuit filed by the state in October seeks to block the ordinances and to secure the return of more than $3.4 million in state grants the town has received from the state Department of Environmental Protection. It characterized the town’s actions as resembling “1950s-era white flight suburbanites” who sought to keep blacks out of their neighbourhoods.

The state contends Mahwah violated New Jersey’s Green Acres Act by banning out-of-state residents from its parks, and it wrote that land acquired under the law cannot be restricted on the basis of religion or residency.

Mahwah council president Robert Hermansen this week denied anti-Semitism played any role in the decisions. He has said the council simply followed the principle that “In Mahwah, Mahwah residents come first.”

Town officials don’t have to look far (or far back) to find a similar dispute. Tenafly, a borough just north of the George Washington Bridge, which connects New Jersey and New York City, was forced to pay a Jewish group more than $300,000 in legal fees and allow the group to keep its eruv up after a six-year legal battle.