NEW YORK (JTA) – The mayor of a town adjacent to the Orthodox Jewish stronghold of Lakewood, New Jersey, says a comment he made about Jewish home buyers invading his town does not make him anti-Semitic.
Thomas Kelaher, the mayor of Toms River, was quoted in a recent Bloomberg News story as saying that Orthodox Jews are trying to buy homes in his town and warning local homeowners that if they don’t sell, they will be the only non-Orthodox left.
“It’s like an invasion,” Kelaher told Bloomberg. “It’s the old throwback to the 1960s, when blockbusting happened in Philadelphia and Chicago with the African-American community — ‘I want to buy your house. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.’ It scares the hell out of people.”
Kelaher later told the Asbury Park Press that his remark was taken out of context, and that if he indeed used the word “invasion,” it was to denote how Toms River residents feel.
“To suggest that I am anti-Semitic is ridiculous,” Kelaher told the Asbury Park Press. “We have a lovely relationship with the Jewish community in Toms River.”
Lakewood is home to one of America’s largest yeshivas, Beth Medrash Govoha, and is among the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the United States. It also has the highest birthrate in New Jersey at 44 births per 1,000 residents. More than half of Lakewood’s 95,000 residents are Orthodox Jews, locals say.
With the town bursting at the seams, Orthodox Jews are seeking to buy homes in nearby areas, including the North Dover neighborhood of Toms River. Last month, the Toms River Town Council enacted an ordinance creating a five-year “cease-and-desist” zone to bar door-to-door solicitations. The town already had a no-knock registry, but locals said it was failing to keep real estate agents away.