MAILBAG: Askanim In Toms River Just Slammed The Frum Community With A Wrecking Ball


The past few weeks have been tumultuous for myself and my fellow Toms River residents. Since I moved in six years ago, my family and neighbors have been hoping to one day have a place to daven and learn with our children.

Four years ago, we were told by our local askanim to vote for Mo Hill instead of Joe Coronato, despite more seasoned askonim from Lakewood and beyond advising otherwise. Trusting our local leaders, I listened. Hill emerged victorious; We celebrated, and so did the askonim, who trumpeted their deep ties and friendship with the newly minted Mayor Hill and his allies on the Toms River Council.

Four years later, we still don’t have shuls. Code enforcement is still issuing violations. The askanim made excuses, and I naively trusted them.

On Tuesday, there was a primary election. Hill, now the incumbent, faced challenges from three candidates. Leading up to the election, our local askanim at the Toms River Jewish Community Council (TRJCC) advised us vote for a new fresh slate. Yet again, veteran askonim from Lakewood insisted the move would be a terrible mistake. And yet again, I foolishly placed my trust in our local askanim.

Having gone to sleep early Tuesday night, I didn’t find out the results until this morning. Waking up, I was stunned to see what had unfolded. Geri Ambrosio, the candidate the askanim had insisted we must support, had gotten blown out. But the TRJCC spun it as a victory, claiming in a statement that the primary outcome was a “tremendous win.”

Tremendous win? We just burned every bridge we had with Toms River politicians! Touting a 1,500-vote turnout on the side of a candidate who was beaten by a landslide is shameful and incompetent. The sad truth of the matter is, the frum community suffered a humiliating defeat, and it was all at the hands of the TRJCC, who were warned over and over not to go ahead with what they were doing. It’s bad enough that the TRJCC didn’t heed the advice of the veteran askanim and failed to understand that their preferred candidate had no chance of winning. But to take a victory lap?

Many frum residents ignored the guidance of the TRJCC over whom to vote for, and many residents sat out the election. Why? Because the questions we had were never answered. Who is the candidate we are backing? Why are we ignoring the Council candidate’s anti-Semitism? Last month we were told to vote for Column A and two days before the election we were told to vote for Column B. Why are we fracturing the frum vote in Ocean County by voting Column B when they are all voting Column A for Ocean County Commissioner? Why were we being told to vote for a candidate who preached that non-Christians are “children of the devil”? Who are we actually supporting? Nobody seemed to know and nobody had answers.

In contrast, Jackson recently had a contentious mayor’s race. The askanim worked together and listened to the veterans in the field. The Jackson Jewish Community Council (JJCC) engaged with the community, was fully transparent, and worked tirelessly for six months to ensure that every member of the community understood the complexities at hand. Dozens of meetings were held – in shuls, at homes, everywhere you can imagine – to apprise frum voters of the situation and explain the strategy.

Ultimately, the askonim earned the support and trust of the kehilla, and by the time the election was over, more than 3,500 frum ballots were cast, all for the same winning candidate. The Jewish community’s vote tipped the scales.

And what happened afterwards? Just months later, an ordinance permitting shuls was introduced. Numerous issues are being addressed. The frum community has a voice that is heard in town hall. Transparency, patience, and veteran guidance produced results.

So why do I write this? For two reasons. One, if you’re in a newer Jewish community, know who your askonim are, what they stand for, what their objectives are, and what is really motivating them. Are they in it for the kehilla or are they in it for themselves? Are they taking the advice of people who have far more experience than they do or trying to run their own show? All of this matters critically. Slapping the title “askan” on yourself doesn’t make you one. If you want your community to flourish, it has to be an all-out, collaborative, and transparent effort – not a two-man show that doesn’t know its left foot from its right.

Secondly, as my community in Toms River reels from the shock, shame, and humiliation of Tuesday’s primary, and as the bitter reality that we just took ten steps backwards in addressing frum needs in Toms River sinks in, I need to publicly call for change. It’s time for new, fresh, competent askanim to stand up and lead us through what could very well be a disastrous four years ahead. We need competence, not bloviating fools who are dumb enough to ignore everyone except for the twisted, self-serving voices in their heads. Enough is enough.

NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of YWN.


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  1. Without knowing the specifics, it appears the only issue motivating the author of this letter is how a specific candidate would vote on specific zoning and land use proposals that would facilitate conversion of single family homes into shuls and what restrictions, if any, would be imposed on such special zoning provisions. I assume there are also other important public policy issues to be considered by residents of Toms River in choosing a candidate but the author seems obsessed by having been misled through blindly followed some unnamed askanim rather than independently researching the slate of candidates and making his/her own choice.

  2. Be smart and vote based on what you know to be true. That’s why voting exists. Nobody forced you to cast a secret ballot for the wrong candidate.

  3. It’s time to stop doing things outside the law, and follow the proper procedures. I had relatives from Toms River visit recently, and one was bemoaning what is happening with a shul. The shul grew quickly, and bought a house. They did the work necessary to turn it into a shul, and moved in. But the big issue now is that there isn’t enough parking. The street isn’t an option, and the yard just isn’t big enough. Now they want to build a proper lot, but are getting pushback.
    So I asked, did they get rezoned for a house of worship? Did they get zoning variances? Permits for the work? The answer to all the questions was no. Why do people think they can ignore the laws and procedures, build themselves into a corner, and then expect there to be no fallout? Years ago, my shul was working on a new building. I attended the meetings with the town council and the zoning board. One of the main points raised was parking. We also went through all the variances. We did traffic studies. We followed proper procedures, as set by the town. Does it take longer? Yes, it does. But we avoid problems down the road.
    Stop ignoring the laws. That causes more hatred towards the Jewish community than anything else.

  4. The lesson is not to blindly go along with the Askonim. There’s usually a reason and not for the klal why they do things. They did this in NY and now the same types of people are trying to do the same here in TR.

  5. Askanim are generally volunteers who place themselves in positions of impact on the community. They have never been vetted or endorsed. They just label themselves and begin their askanus. So those who listen to them are no more informed than had they ignored the askanim in the first place. While they might perform well and be helpful, the risk of their being rogues and troublemakers is equally as great. Having watched much positive and much negative, I have learned to not trust askanim until I vet them myself. Being partners with politicians might sound purposeful, but politics isn’t exactly known for honesty and integrity.

    Buyer beware.

  6. As I see, the crowd is attacking the writer without addressing his points – typical modus operandi of “askanim”. And people should not be commenting if they don’t know the details.
    In Jackson, the kehilla worked in a united way. In Toms River, the personal fight of one Askan became our collective fight. The askan did not address the concerns, and acted beyond the scope that was directed from the Rabbanim. When the ads and reasons for endorsements are based on vague “facts” and throwing around “anti-semitism”, then there is no real basis, and it’s personal.
    This is not a one issue election. The writer making a point of zoning, is based on what the “Vaad” based their fight on. And for the commentor about following the law, just remember that those hiding Anne Frank were breaking the law, and those hunting her were following the law. Following the law is no moral nor religious compass. Yes we should try to work within the framework, but following the law is not always aligned with our religious beliefs. We are jews first, Americans second.

  7. @ny100k, I would like to add to the comment by DaMoshe. In this case, the laws are usually made to keep the areas residential and looking nice. That’s why many people moved to TR and Jackson in the first place. Why would they want to go against the laws if laws are keeping their neighborhoods from turning into another Lakewood? Why would anyone want a commercial building with a large parking lot, etc on their block? Sometimes the laws are actually for the people’s benefit. If we Yidden have different requirements, we have to work with our neighbors to implement change. We should not go behind anyone’s back and just do anything we want. That’s what happened to Lakewood, a city that I watched being ruined, during my over 40 years of living there.

  8. No time to read this just make a pizza store with minyanim and a kollel fancy place if anybody complains it’s a big pizza party

  9. Am I the only one who has a problem with an article that clearly says that YWN disclaims responsibility for the article, and that it’s solely the view(s) of its author, and DOES NOT SAY WHO THE AUTHOR IS?!?

    So, literally no-one is responsible for it.

    And the article has the chutzpah to bemoan a lack of transparency???

  10. This balagan in Jackson and TR, as well as living amidst rampant violent crime in NYC, is avoidable, once one comes to the understanding that there’s Yiddishkeit west of the Hudson River. Until Yidden become “woke’ to this unthinkable concept, all societal ills in those areas will remain status quo. Does anyone think for one moment that the gedolai Yisroel who established yeshivos in NY and Lakewood wouldn’t relocate them to tamer environs given the terror of day to day life now?

  11. Everyone should do their own homework and get to know the potential candidates. So called Askanim should NOT say who to vote for. They can inform us what each candidate runs for.

  12. How many shuls do you need? Why are people so lazy to walk to shul that they need a shul that is a 5 second walk? It wasn’t like that in the alte heim. Every town had one shul for most of history. Maybe three or four later in history.

  13. @ny100k

    Anne Frank? Really? You’re comparing the moral imperative of ignoring laws designed for the extermination of the Jews with the moral and illegal deviancy of ignoring local zoning laws? This is a disgusting attempt at moral equivalency in the service of just acting the way we please without regard for consequences, decency, lawful behavior and chillul Hashem.

    I live in Toms River and I would rather not see a single shul built than yield to this kind of crooked rationalization. There is no point in having a shul if this kind of person davens in it.

  14. This is why the govt requires learning civics & American history. They want educated voters who can think for themselves instead of blindly following some guy named Askan.

  15. @RafaelJosephson
    The issue in the elections are specifically about making life harder for us jews in Toms River. This is not about minor zoning issues. We’re not talking about building apartment buildings in our backyard. We’re not looking to do as we please. This is about quality of life.

  16. @ny100k Why don’t you have the decency to admit that your holocaust comparison was ill-advised (putting it lightly). “Us Jews” here in Toms river are not finding life to be harder on account of zoning laws, especially laws that were in effect when most frum Jews moved here. If you move to a town, don’t pretend that the existing laws are a “hardship”. You knew what the quality of life would be when you bought a house: it would mean that shuls would be difficult to build. Did you move here expecting that you could force the rest of the population to create the quality of life you want? Move somewhere else.