(JTA) — The head of Chabad in a town adjacent to the Orthodox Jewish stronghold of Lakewood, New Jersey, has sued the town and its planning board alleging discrimination.
Rabbi Moshe Gourarie and the Chabad center of Toms River on Tuesday filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the township and its Board of Adjustment, claiming that Chabad has become the target of community opposition to the haredi Orthodox Jewish population.
Chabad, which has been operating out of the rabbi’s private home in the township for the last 12 years, was recently told it requires a variance to operate as a house of worship. A hearing on the variance is scheduled for next month, the Asbury Park Press reported.
The lawsuit notes in leveling the discrimination accusation that the board allows the American Legion, a church, Ocean County College and the county fire academy to operate in the residential zone.
The rabbi’s weekly Shabbat prayer services bring out up to 20 people, according to the report. The rabbi also holds classes during the week of fewer than 10 students, and Hebrew school for no more than five children for two hours on Sundays.
More than 1,200 residents attended a meeting in December for the first Board of Adjustment meeting on the Chabad center, where the zoning board ruled that the rabbi must seek a use variance to continue operating the Chabad house. The next meeting is scheduled for April 14.
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.” He later apologized for the remarks.
With Lakewood bursting at the seams, Orthodox Jews are seeking to buy homes in nearby areas, including Toms River’s North Dover neighborhood. 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.
“Substantial community opposition to both the Chabad’s use and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in general, has targeted the Chabad,” attorney Roman P. Storzer, of Storzer & Greene in New York and Washington, D.C., who represents the Chabad Jewish Center, told the Asbury Park Press.
“This cancerous movement targeting a specific religious minority has spread into Toms River. The use of local ordinances and land use regulation to build a wall around Lakewood should not be tolerated.”