Or, so it seems based on campaign material and media reports regarding the upcoming municipal election.
In the hot race between Mayor Michael Reina and his fellow Republican councilmembers, and the slate led by Tracie Yostpille, which is reportedly supported by Democrats, both sides have barely discussed any substantive issues. Instead, their MO has been to seek to destroy the opposition by portraying them as being too cozy with Orthodox Jews and/or anything to do with “Lakewood.”
The Reina campaign put out an ad calling their opponents “the Lakewood Yes team,” as well as an ad headlined “The Lakewood Democrats want puppets they can control,” featuring a photo of Governor Phil Murphy, who…is not from Lakewood. They also circulated a photo of State Senator Vin Gopal, who is allegedly helping fund the Yostpille effort, with Orthodox Lakewood activists – who were discussing…school security with him. Perhaps most troublingly, the mayor on social media took offense that Governor Murphy denounced anti-Semitism at the behest of The Lakewood Vaad; Reina commented, “This is what happens when Democrats stay home and don’t vote.”
The rhetoric emanating from the Yostpille campaign and its allies has been highly repulsive as well. The campaign produced a flier featuring a photo of Mayor Reina at a ceremony, accusing him of meeting a “Lakewood developer” and “Lakewood power broker.” The “developer” in this case was actually a low-key retired DPW employee who shares a name with a developer who is no longer alive. That shameful flier also identifies by name all the Orthodox Jews in the photograph, while not identifying Lakewood Police Chief Gregory Meyer who is not Jewish and apparently therefore not offensive.
In this vein, the Jackson News Journal published a full article against the Reina campaign due to a murky photo of an Orthodox Jew leaving the Reina campaign office, given to the Journal by a “local source.” Others on social media have even piled on journalist Phil Stilton of Shore News Network – who is seen as being sympathetic to Reina – for attending an event for Jackson’s sick children (most of them not Jewish), which was organized by Misameach, an Orthodox run organization.
Jackson residents are outraged that they are once again made to feel under siege and hated simply due to their religion.
“After years of Jackson Township enacting policies against Eruvs and Jewish schools and harassing Jewish worshippers – which has hurt the entire town and brought about federal and state investigations – it is sad to see Mayor Reina and others continuing down this path,” says community activist Mordechai Burnstein. “Our friends and neighbors are offended by this and demand that this stop immediately.”
“We cannot overstate how unacceptable such rhetoric is for a campaign in an American town, circa 2018; it reeks from some of the most shameful chapters of our history,” says Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg of The Lakewood Vaad. “We remain undeterred in our efforts to fight for our community’s rights to live peacefully and practice our religion in any American town – while continuing to reach out to Jackson residents and officials of good faith who are looking to promote outreach and understanding instead of hate and division.”