BLUEPRINT FOR SUCCESS: How Jackson’s Frum Community Defied the Odds and Propelled Pro-Jewish Candidates to Victory

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L-R: Tzvi Herman, Mike Reina, Mordechai Burnstein

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A lot has been made in recent weeks of Jewish communal efforts to get various candidates elected, most prominently Lee Zeldin in the New York governor’s race, Mike Lawler in NY-17, and various other races in the tri-state area and beyond. The results were ultimately a mixed bag; some attempts to install pro-Jewish and pro-yeshiva candidates were hoisted to victory; others put up valiant fights but ultimately fell flat on Election Day.

While many celebrated the victory of candidates like Mike Lawler in the NY-17 congressional race, who was largely propelled to triumph by strong support from the Chasidic community, what was perhaps the most significant win for the Jewish community took place elsewhere – specifically, in Jackson, New Jersey.

Home to over 60,000 residents, Jackson was the first township to which Orthodox Jews began moving when homes in Lakewood became too expensive for the average family to afford. Immediately upon Jewish entry into the township, dozens of antisemites hollered and worked incessantly to hinder frum life in the township by twisting local leaders’ arms into passing blatantly targeted and antisemitic Township ordinances.

The moves pushed by anti-Orthodox activists ultimately led to Jackson becoming mired neck-deep in discrimination lawsuits, including suits filed by the federal Justice Department, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, and Agudath Israel of America.

As problems persisted, Orthodox Jewish residents began fighting back, allying themselves with elected officials who were supportive of Orthodox Jews and opposing those who refused to make life in Jackson welcoming to Orthodox Jews. Over time, the Orthodox Jewish community’s interests have been taken more seriously as elected officials took note of their unity and growing political clout.

This growing political power was never more powerfully demonstrated than in the November 8th election. At the top of the ballot were several candidates engaged in a bitter battle for the mayoral post and two township council positions. Incumbent Mayor Mike Reina had proven himself to be an ally of Orthodox Jews by publicly pushing back against activists whose sole objective in pushing various policies and ordinances were to adversely affect Jewish life in the township.

On his ticket were two other candidates more closely aligned with the Orthodox Jewish community than their opponents: Scott Sargent and Jennifer Kuhn, both of whom were running for Township Council.

On the other side of the race was Council Vice President Marty Flemming and his running mates Andy Kern and Samara O’Neill, none of whom had sterling records as they pertained to the frum community.

As the campaigns began, the Orthodox Jewish community led by the Jackson Jewish Community Council (JJCC) launched an all-out campaign to get Jewish residents to vote for their best interests.

Above all, the JJCC understood that success was impossible without the entirety of the Orthodox Jewish community throwing its full weight behind candidates who would give them a voice in government. And thus began a monthslong campaign to drive frum residents to the polls. Calls, meetings, shul announcements, robocalls and flyers blanketed Jackson homes in an unavoidable tidal wave of advocacy for Mike Reina and his running mates. WhatsApp groups lit up with get out the vote messages, rabbanim spoke in their respective shuls of the urgency of the moment, Agudah’s Rabbi Avi Schnall held joint events with the JJCC, and a data list was compiled listing every Jewish family and the number of eligible voters they had.

Election Day itself was a flurry of activity. More than a dozen high school girls manned a phone bank in Agudath Israel of America’s New Jersey headquarters in Lakewood, calling residents and urging them to get out and vote.

When the dust settled on the night of the election, the results were both evident and stunning. Some 90% of the Orthodox Jewish community had voted in the election and their votes had made the difference. Mike Reina had received 9,659 votes compared to Marty Flemming’s 8,400 – a difference of 1,259 votes. How many Orthodox Jews voted? About 3,000, and nearly every vote went to Reina. The Orthodox Jewish bloc of votes not only mattered – it was the difference in the election.

Similar results were seen in the vote difference between Reina’s winning running mates and Flemming’s losing running mates. The Orthodox Jewish community had stood up for what mattered to them and emerged victorious.

A map of Jackson Township showing the areas that voted for each candidate provides an incredible look at what the Orthodox Jewish community pulled off. In the below graphic, the blue-shaded area represents parts of the township whose majority voted for Marty Flemming, while the green-shaded area shows the neighborhoods that voted for Reina. Orthodox Jewish residents are heavily represented in the green areas.

The results are even more impressive considering the results of a get out the vote campaign in Lakewood on which hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent. In Lakewood, about 40% of all voters cast ballots in the election, and less than 35% of Orthodox Jewish residents voted. Compared to the poorly funded Jackson effort, the Lakewood campaign looked mediocre, at best.

Asked who deserves the credit for the stunning win, Jackson Jewish Community Council representatives declined to accept credit, instead pointing to Agudath Israel of America and its New Jersey director, Rabbi Avi Schnall, as the force of behind the campaign to get out of the vote.

“Rabbi Schnall was, ultimately, the driving force that brought this victory to fruition,” said JJCC member Tzvi Herman. “Every resource at his disposable was made available to us so that we could get out the vote. Day in and day out, his leadership, insight, and profound understanding of the Ocean County political puzzle provided the path to victory.”

In turn, Rabbi Schnall was quick to brush off the accolades coming his way, insisting that the results were a testament to the achdus of the Jackson community and the hard work of the JJCC.

“When it comes down to it, people have to vote. You can thank whomever you want, but at the end of the day, the people made their voices heard by going to the voting booth,” Rabbi Schnall told YWN. “And of course, the Jackson Jewish Community Council played a tremendous role in that happening. What they pulled off here is not only incredible, but also lays out a blueprint for other maligned Jewish communities to take charge and change their fortunes through the ballot box.”

(YWN World Headquarters – NYC)

4 COMMENTS

  1. You use the terms anti-Orthodox and antisemitic interchangeably, which is itself problematic.

    What is more, you do not inform us as to the nature of the ordinances that have served to “hinder frum life in the township”.

    What are these ordinances? How do we know that they were motivated by antisemitism?

  2. Simple stop
    Growth in Jackson change zoning rules building permitting rules not allow yeshivas or day schools to be built and increase and enhance building inspections. Since it is Lakewood Brooklyn and five towns Jews moving in what else would you call it