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NY Times Article On Growing “Tensions” In Lakewood

bmg.jpgThe following article was taken from the NY Times website, and will appear in Monday’s newspaper:

A fault line runs through Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in Lakewood, dividing the black families that have lived here for years, many in run-down apartment complexes at one end of the street, from their new neighbors, the Orthodox Jewish families who mostly occupy a row of two-story houses on the other side.

The black families are slowly leaving this street, and the Orthodox Jewish families are moving in. Their lives barely intersect, though it is barely half a mile from one end of the drive to the other.

Motti Schwartz, a 26-year-old student at a large yeshiva here, rents an apartment on King Drive.

“You come into a neighborhood that’s not really yours,” he said. “I think there’s probably a lot of animosity.”

Ronald Daye, who is black, lived in one of the apartment complexes but recently moved to another town. “There’s jealousy because they stick together,” he said, referring to the Orthodox Jews. “We all want our own schools. This town has too many people, and there will be problems.”

The problems, many people say, are already here. Black residents charge that new housing is being built only for Orthodox Jews, who, they say, are pushing black residents out and taking over the town. Members of the Jewish community say such accusations sometimes cloak anti-Semitic sentiments.

The tension has played out in a series of violent episodes over the last two years that have laid bare the strains in this town of 73,000 near the Jersey Shore.

In 2006, a black teenager and an Orthodox Jewish teacher got into a fight in an alley behind a synagogue, and the teacher’s trial on assault charges still divides the town into angry camps. In October, another Jewish teacher was beaten with a bat by a black man with a history of mental illness. Last month, there was another beating: a 14-year-old Orthodox Jewish boy was attacked by what he described as a gang of black and white teenagers. The attackers, the boy said, used the word “Jew.”

Lakewood reported 41 bias crimes to state authorities in 2005 and 26 in 2006, more than any other town in Ocean County. But officials say that this, in part, reflects Lakewood’s greater diversity, and no one believes that the relations between Lakewood’s black and Jewish residents have sunk to the depths that contributed to the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Still, interviews with people living in the town suggest that black and Jewish relations are, for the most part, locked in a deep misunderstanding because of cultural differences, economic disparities, or complaints by some members of each group about unequal treatment by the town’s authorities.

“This is a divided town,” said Steve Sanders, who raked leaves on a recent afternoon at the home of his boss, an Orthodox Jew. Mr. Sanders, who is white, said he moved to Lakewood a year ago. Now, he said, he is considering moving to Freehold, N.J.

“It’s not segregated there,” he said.

There is a familiar ring to Lakewood’s story: One group arrives, another leaves, and in the upheaval, sparks fly. But town officials say that the changes here have been so rapid that they are struggling to keep up.

The town’s population has almost doubled since 1990 — the 2006 census put the population at 73,000 but town officials say that figure is low — and much of that growth has been in the insular, strictly Orthodox Jewish community, which has increased to an estimated 40,000 people, up from about 18,000 in 1995. Thousands of Hispanic immigrants have also moved to Lakewood in the last five years, township officials said.

Many Orthodox Jews have been drawn to Lakewood by the prestige of the town’s yeshiva, Beth Medrash Govoha, one of the largest rabbinical colleges in the world. The yeshiva was founded in 1943 by a Polish-born rabbi, Aaron Kotler. In 1962, when Rabbi Kotler died, the school had 250 students. It now has about 5,000.

The wider yeshiva community includes more than a hundred temples, and about 50 schools.

Large homes are sprouting everywhere. One development, called West Gate, will have room for 900 families when it is completed, along with its own shopping mall with businesses including Sinai Dental and Kosher West, a supermarket.

The Jewish community has also vigorously participated in local politics. Last year, Meir Lichtenstein became the town’s first Orthodox mayor. The majority of the school board members are Orthodox Jews.

Lakewood was a once a popular resort town, a winter retreat for wealthy New Yorkers on the edge of the Pine Barrens, and later, home to dozens of poultry farms. Many Jewish residents said they were drawn by the town’s bucolic character.

“The air is so good here,” said Orly Helwani, standing in the hallway of her house on King Drive. “There was too much action in Brooklyn.”

Some black residents say that the growing Orthodox population is displacing other groups. But town officials, including some black leaders, say the complaints ring hollow: Many long-term residents are selling their homes to developers or Orthodox families, often at a substantial profit. Black residents — who made up about 13 percent of the population in 2000, and about 9 percent now — are leaving every year and moving to other towns in Ocean County or to the South, leaders of the community say.

Last year, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the owner of a Lakewood apartment complex, charging discrimination against black and Hispanic tenants in favor of Jewish ones. The case is still pending.

And the increasing presence of Orthodox Jews in leadership positions — a point of pride for the Jewish community — is resented by some black residents.

“People don’t think the town is being run fairly,” said the Rev. Thomas E. Simpson Sr., the pastor at the Intercessory Tabernacle Ministries, a black church.

There have been fights about the administration of the school system. Orthodox Jewish students attend private schools, but are eligible for millions of dollars of public money for busing, according to the town’s current mayor, Ray Coles. Black residents have complained that decisions about public schools attended largely by black and Hispanic students are made by a school board where 5 of the 9 members are Orthodox Jews.

Warren A. Sherard, the head of the local N.A.A.C.P. branch, said he had tried to get black residents more invested in the politics of the town.

“I went to churches and told people, ‘We need to vote in school board elections,’ ” he said. “I know people want to throw stones, but everyone’s got to vote.”

Similar resentment festers among the Orthodox Jews: In interviews, some said housing inspectors were overzealous in citing violations in Orthodox homes, and others accused the police of singling out Jews at times for minor infractions.

Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg, who runs a local social service agency and is a member of the Vaad, a council of Orthodox leaders, said members of his community were especially hurt by talk of Jews taking over Lakewood.

The recent episodes of violence have left scars on both sides.

Some black residents say it was unfair that the Jewish teacher’s fight with the black teenager, Jamarr Dickerson, was not officially termed a bias crime. While finding the teacher, Elchonon Zimmerman, not guilty of assault, a judge scolded him for singling out the teenager because he was black.

The two incidents involving attacks on Jews — the beating of Rabbi Mordechai Moskowitz, and the assault on a Jewish teenager, who has not been identified by officials — have reverberated in Jewish homes. “The beating of Rabbi Moskowitz was talked about at each and every dinner table,” said one Jewish resident.

Rabbi Weisberg, Mr. Sherard and town officials say they are working to help everyone get along, and, they say, they have already made great strides in nurturing tolerance.

At a monthly “dialogue” meeting, for example, representatives of the black, Orthodox Jewish and Hispanic communities try to work out problems. Orthodox Jewish voters helped elect a black school board member. Rabbi Moskowitz has been visiting Jewish schools and talking to students about improving relations with the black community. And the town has given its blessing to a nighttime civilian car patrol, to be staffed by blacks, Jews and Hispanics.

“These might just be the growing pains of every town,” Rabbi Weisberg said. “What bothers me is when each community retreats to itself, and there is a siege mentality. The goal is to be fully integrated.”

(NY Times)

32 Responses

  1. The article reads that orthodox Jews are 40,000 out of 73,000 which means we are the Majority here, well Majority wins!! The other 33,000 is divided between Blacks and Latinos who are not always on the same page, If we will be B’Achdus we will prevail!!!!

  2. They ARe THe ones leaving,We are not kicking them out . They decided that the money for the houses is more important then there friends and they leave(They should scream at there friends)

  3. If we will have a majority wins and everyone else can go blow attitude, as suggested by an earlier commenter, we are inviting the same attitude towards us at the state and federal level where we are the minority.

  4. “The majority of the school board members are Orthodox Jews”. — As a non lakewood or NY resident, why should the majority of school board members be Orthodox Jews if this is the overseeing board of the public schools in Lakewood?

  5. Maybe tone down those mansions going up all over-this is not what R. Aharon Kotler envisioned for Lakewood. A little anivus goes a long way.

  6. stan the man, the reason is because the orthodox jews are the ones paying the majority of taxes thats why, if they don’t want the orthodox jews to be on the board don’t collect school taxes from them

  7. “well Majority wins”

    I hope you are writing as an outsider, and not a resident.

    We here in Lakewood are striving for a town built upon mutual respect and understanding. The only thing we want to win is good relationships and a pleasant, positive environment for all.

  8. I wish they would stop the real estate speculation. It is driving the housing market through the roof besides feeding Anti-Semitism.

  9. oh grow up. people that learn in kollel should not be living in million dollar homes or driving fifty thousand dollar cars. and, it’s not like our people are all that tolerant either. we treat them like pariah’s. we don’t socialize with them, we don’t allow our children to play with them, we don’t invite them to our homes or to learn about our culture. I’m not saying we necessarily should introduce that factor into our lives, but we are not the most welcoming, so what do we expect, that they are going to be so lovely dovey to us? They have the right to live in a neighborhood where their children are not going to be afraid either. have you ever seen a group of yeshiva bochuring walking LOUDLY I might add, down a street on a friday night? it’s a little disconcerting for even a frum person.

  10. sane- are you jealous? most of the ‘mansions’ are just big houses for big families k’ih – of course some are ‘mansionlike’ but the majority of the big houses are being built to accomodate the needs of the families

  11. There are many neighborhoods that were “Jewish ” in NY that have become Black and Hispanic. No one threw anyone out. People die,people improve their lot in life by studying and working and then move to more expensibe neighborhoods. Most people,not only Jews,like to live with their own cultural group. Jews don’t want to live in an area where loud,obscene noisy “music” is blast ed from cars and windows.Jews need to live close to their shuls.They have to walk,not ride to them on Shabbos and Yom Tov holidays. Non-Jews can travel 7 days a week and also can eat what they want,. Jews eat kosher and there must be a demand for kosher food for stores to operate. Look what’s happened in Washington Heights lately,in Brownsville,Harlem,West Bronx etc. over the past generation. This is America,the land of opportunity. If Black groups got together and started to educate their kids,set up decent activity programs, teach moral values,live within families,stop out-of -wedlock and single parent births and depending on welfare,food stamps,medicaid,section 8 etc and their young people would be doing responsible activities instead of just ‘hanging out’on the streets,playing nasty and expensive video games,etc,they might also be able to live a better standard. The Jews in Lakewood are not wealthy,just responsible and hard working decent citizens. We Jews have the same right to the “American Dream”. HOWEVER, we must NOT EVER show off and cause unnecessary jealousy from the non-Jews. WE ARE in golus! Hashem reminds us by sending us shelichim to prod us not to feel too comfortabele in golus. Remember Bovel,Spain,Germany,etc.

  12. Proud KAJ-WH TIDE Guy

    You are right. Non of our Kollel families are on section 8, welfare, Food stamps or any other government funded programs!?! If these progrmas didn’t exist lakewood wouldn’t exist

  13. To #16:

    I am not jealous and B”H I am very happy with my home. I have no problem with a large house needed to house a large family and I have no problem with the home being balabatish. I do have a problem with homes that are intended to dazzle the neighbors and you know that such homes are becoming more and more prevalent in Lakewood. There is a certain level of modesty that we must assume, particlarly in Golus. If we become too comfortable in Golus, then G-d reminds us that we should not be too comfortable.

  14. The thing that gives me tension is the NY SLIMES!

    What was the point of this story? That the poor sh’choyrim and illegals are being “pushed” out of the neighborhood? What about all the crime and drugs that the AYNO YEHUDIM bring to the town? How come the Slimes didnt mention how the crime rate in the Yehudi section is a drop in the bucket compared to the other side?

    If they dont think its fair that they could now sell their properties for MUCH more than they would have been otherwise, let them stay in their shacks!

    Of course you cant expect such things from the NY Slimes.

  15. Flatbush Buuby. In case you are not aware those ‘hot’ real estate agents who were selling houses like hotcakes over the past few years cant sell a house if they discounted them for 20% below what they are currently priced. You could have been a light post and sold a house in Lakewood over the apst years. Now all those “shvitzers -hot shot” agents cant sell a house. For a lor of factors
    1- Investors are out of the picture with many of them taking negative equity in their houses that they purchased over the past three years.
    2- The easy mortgage money is over
    3- The prices ran up way to high over the past years that it priced out the market( Yeshiva, young families) Until it comes down nobodies going to be buying Examples are Chestnut by Somerset, Concorde(Somerset finally dropped his pricesa and still he was only able to sell them to one or two fellows who bought a couple each -again NOT the general market)
    4- There are developments that people went under contract two years ago that are being completed and now that the appraisal are being done they cant even justify those prices in todays market.
    5- Prices are dropping why buy when you can wait and get a lower price in a few month mentality.
    6- The affordable housing initiative is dragging the market down

  16. Okay!

    If it was me runing for office (which im not)I would get (the communitty leaders)both sides together and get to the bottom of it and of course hammer out ideas………..

  17. “the reason is because the orthodox jews are the ones paying the majority of taxes thats why, if they don’t want the orthodox jews to be on the board don’t collect school taxes from them”
    Everyone(in particular in Monsey & 5towns, where the taxes are triple to Lakewood)who owns a house pays school taxes even though their children do not attend the public schools, that is not a new invention, that doesnot have to equal a majority of frum jews on the school board.

  18. I personally think the so-called tensions between Jews & African American is way overblown. However as a resident of Lakewood for close to 20 yrs, I am more concerned about potential tensions between the next generation of Latinos. Imagine yourself growing up Latino in Lakewood – you live in a shack owned by Jews, your mom slaves 40-50 hours a week cleaning some fancy home while the mother of the house comes in all fahpitzed from a mall with exclusive clothing for her kids – and your mom has to unload her 2007 lease, your dad works for Jewish builders doing hard labor and between them, most of the money they make pays a Jewish landlord who m ay or may not even maintain the home. Not to mention Jewish steakhouses, school boards, etc. When I would grow up, I don’t know that I would be a Jew lover. We need more Derech Eretz – WE ARE IN GOLUS!!!

  19. #27 (LkwdShelonu): What do you suggest?? These people are lining up for the jobs you mentioned – not coerced into taking them. Do you want them hired for top-paying executive positions so that we avoid “tension” later on?

  20. To the “Majority Wins” poster …

    If there are two foxes and a chicken in a barn, can the foxes vote to eat the chicken?

    Majority wishes have to coexist with minority rights. Otherwise, society is just one big game of hoping that you’re not the chicken.

    It’s odd that someone who (presumably) is a member of an oppressed minority would express this sentiment.

  21. Camden Mayor or #23 however you want to be identified, you have proven my point. With all the speculation, the real estate market is not just saturated but flooded! Just look at the real estate ads in the Yated Ne’eman and you will see what I mean!

    But, it has also fed Anti-Semitism especially in the black community which doesn’t seem to care about their real estate. I am not necessarily supporting their viewpoint, just sharing an observation.

  22. I just thought it would be interesting to note that this article was written by someone named “Kareem Fahim” (perhaps of middle eastern descent) and it was placed on the FRONT page of the Metro Section.

    It’s articles like these that create the tensions they write about. Naturally, the author conveniently forgot to mention that over all crime in Lakewood is at an all time low and that most level-headed non-jewish residents would rather live in a safe community filled with “strange” ultra othodox families than in a neighborhood inhabited by many drug addicts.

    Being a small town located 60 miles away from NYC this article in and of itself should seemingly not be worthy of being FRONT page material in the largest NY paper. Apparently after seeing the success that the NJ Star Ledger, Asbury Park Press and others received by printing similar hate-filled material the NY Times felt it was their “duty” to enlighten their readers with this newsworthy story under the guise of “objective journalism”.

    May Hashem have rachmonus on all of us and enlighten the eyes of the hamon am to see past the mere “facts” of this article and realize its true wicked intent.

  23. sammygol, are you one or two people, because judging from some of the acronyms that you have posted on this site you may not hold by what you’ve just posted here!

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