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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