Op-Ed: North Dover’s Wakeup Call

By: Howard Kleinhendler. Last week, I, like many other members of the Lakewood Orthodox community sadly read about the complaints from North Dover residents over the prospect of having Orthodox move into their town. In a throwback to the 1950s where Jews were not welcome in corporate Board Rooms or at Wall Street firms. The North Dover residents’ “not in my backyard” attitude unnerved many. Orthodox were angered over the reported bigotry and racial stereotyping. Clearly, if the North Dover folks were truly worried about a reduction in their housing prices should the so-called “Hassidics” move in, there is a better way to express the point. There is no room in this country for bigotry and racial profiling. It merely leads to hatred, conflict and sorrow.

But we would be best served to understand what drove the Dover folks to get so upset in the first place. The gripe is based on the perception that the Orthodox build overcrowded housing and permit schools in residential areas without proper regard to the needs and feelings of surrounding homeowners. Well, there, they may have a point.

When I came to Lakewood in 1986 as a young yeshiva student at Beis Medrash Govoha, Lakewood was a sleepy town. The Orthodox lived in a ten block radius of Forest and Sixth Street. The co-op was a small shop in the basement of the Cheder, which was only open certain hours of the day, and there were less than five Jewish schools in town. The Lakewood School Board had no orthodox members, nor did the Township Committee. BMG had only one Beis Medrash, the one R. Aharon Kotler, zt’l built at 617 Sixth Street.

Today, neither Reb Aharon, nor his son, Reb Schneur, zt”l would recognize Lakewood. There are nearly 50,000 orthodox residents and 22,000 school age children attending nearly 100 schools. Every week 54 Orthodox children are born to Lakewood parents. The Township Committee, School Board and Planning Board are dominated by Orthodox members. BMG has campuses all over town and boasts over 5,000 students. The co-op has three mega-stores. While this population expansion explains the pressing need for affordable housing and many schools, this need cannot cause the Orthodox-controlled arms of government to disregard the rights of others. Indeed, because the Orthodox control the local government in Lakewood, they must go out of their way to address the needs of the non-orthodox and non-Jewish residents to avoid any perception of bias. In other words, leadership carries with it an obligation not merely to adhere to the law, but to avoid the perception of unfairness. It is here that Lakewood is failing.

A long-time resident of Massachusetts Avenue, who for years lived quietly on several acres in a single-family area, who complains about an Orthodox builder who wants to put eight townhouses on the lot next door is not anti-Semitic. She is lodging a legitimate complaint based on the feeling that replacing a single family home with eight new families (and another eight basement families), together with 10-16 cars parked regularly next door or on the street is an improper intrusion of privacy. A senior who complains about an Orthodox elementary school that goes up on his block which brings busloads of loud children and causes staff parking to block his driveway, is not a bigot. He is expressing a legitimate complaint about deterioration in his quality of life. These types of concerns must be balanced with the pressing needs of the bulging Orthodox community in Lakewood.

The North Dover residents’ attitude towards Lakewood must be taken seriously. Just because the Orthodox have political power doesn’t mean that power should be used to stamp out the interest of the non-Orthodox. Lakewood is not Bnei Brak or Jerusalem. This is a secular country with equal rights for all. We cannot accommodate all the Orthodox that want to live here by building schools on every empty piece of land or by squeezing people into dense housing developments. The Planning Board must take more caution before approving multiple family housing in single-family neighborhoods. And, schools should only be permitted in areas that do not affect residential quality of life.

Recent negative press about Lakewood’s School Board has further pushed the need to reassess the way in which we do political “business” in Lakewood. Political and religious leaders must heed this clarion call for change before the Orthodox community loses credibility as a legitimate and well-intentioned body. In other words, by taking over the powers of government, the Orthodox have taken upon themselves the obligation to act in a way that others will be proud of and point to as a model of integrity and success. This begins with tolerance and compromise – attitudes that governments throughout the ages had consistently denied to their Jewish populations. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, we cannot dare act in a manner that in any way reminds us of our past tormentors.

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  1. I can’t agree more with this. You are 100% right. I am not saying that the North Dover residents were correct in their methods, but the rest of it is true. This also applies to people (moderated) buying houses and renting to multiple families in nice neighborhoods, bringing down the value of everyone’s house.

  2. Well said. This idea has been bothering me for a long time but I could not have put it in writing any clearer than you just did.

  3. Hear! Hear! Let us stop calling, “Anti-Semitism!” and take a long, hard look at ourselves. It is not only the non-Orthodox and the Gentiles who would like better planning and more courtesy, by the way…

  4. I couldn’t have said it any better. I honestly believe it has nothing to do w/the religion of the group, but what changes come when the group comes into an area. I mean no disrespect, it is what it is. Mr Kleinhendlerput it into words perfectly.

    Lakewood has changed so much in such a short time. The population is exploding, the landscape is evolving, and the town is having issues dealing with that. People in surrounding towns do not want the same issues.

  5. These issues are not unique to the Orthodox. Every large city in New Jersey (and everywhere, really) was once a smaller city and in the growth from one to the other experienced precisely these sorts of growing pains. Because the local growth is primarily spurred by one easily distinguished community they take the blame.

  6. The original letter writer does have a point, but mr klinehendler has never been more wrong. If the zoning in your town allows such building then good for them. If towns like howel and soon dover make zoning rules that require more property to build then good for them also. When I moved to monsey there was a farm next door. Now its 5 houses.

  7. While your points are valid and the Dover residents MAY have not had any bigotry in their intentions, we have to be wary to blame the words on our actions thus far. There are MANY jew hating racists out there. I suspect that those behind the letter weren’t just motivated by worries about growth and schools but by good old hatred.

  8. Howard, i would personally like to commend you, and (virtually) shake your hand for saying the things you just said:

    “this need cannot cause the Orthodox-controlled arms of government to disregard the rights of others”

    “Just because the Orthodox have political power doesn’t mean that power should be used to stamp out the interest of the non-Orthodox. Lakewood is not Bnei Brak or Jerusalem. This is a secular country with equal rights for all. We cannot accommodate all the Orthodox that want to live here by building schools on every empty piece of land or by squeezing people into dense housing developments. The Planning Board must take more caution before approving multiple family housing in single-family neighborhoods. And, schools should only be permitted in areas that do not affect residential quality of life.”

    “Now that the shoe is on the other foot, we cannot dare act in a manner that in any way reminds us of our past tormentors.”

    i agree 1000000% with everything you wrote. you obviously see the points that people like i have been seing for a while now. everytime i said something, i was instantly labeled a anti-semi(if my comment was even published). THANK YOU SIR!!

  9. Well written. I agree with your point. Lets stop calling everyone that disagrees with us an anti-semite and actually try to understand their issues. It is time to leave the holocaust and slavery behind us and realize that not everyone is has nefarious intentions. I too am upset over the lack of care displayed in this town. How about looking in the mirror before we focus on everyone else. Maybe we do need some fixing up.

  10. The Dover is concerned with the developments approved by lakewoods planning & zoning boards. It’s like trying to put in another sardine in the can-it just don’t fit, you have to be able to get them out also.

    The busses & emergency vehicles can’t manuever. The regular cars can’t either.

  11. Mr. Kleinhendler,

    This is the first time in history that I agree with any words that you say. And I agree with EVERY WORD in this article.

    Why do you think that only the non-Orthodox are bothered when a school or synogogue goes up on a residential block. Even the Orthodox neighbors are bothered. But they are scared to say it, for fear of being labeled a self-hating Jew.

    To my non-Orthodox neighbors:
    You should know that many of us, if not most of us, try to be good neighbors………….

    I will stop now, so that the rest of my comments are not moderated.

  12. This is the best article on the scoop this year. The worst is when a person puts TWO houses on ONE lot when its a single family development. People are upset but no one will say anything because they dont want to fight. Its sad that people think they could do what they want.

  13. I arrived in Lakewood just one year prior to Mr. Kleinhendler and experienced Lakewood’s metamorphosis similarly. He is absolutely correct in his assertions that it is inappropriate to call “anti-Semitism” regarding legitimate concerns, such as in the 2 cases he cites, and that we must be vigilant as individuals and as a community to be tolerant and respectful to all our neighbors and fellow citizens. However, when complaints are lodged using anti-semitic terms we must voice firm protest.

    Regarding a related issue: This respect to fellow man applies to other minorities as well. It was not too long ago that my great grandparents arrived on these shores (before the Holocaust) for financial reasons. Look back at the history of those times – the early 1900’s, for the negative attitudes of American citizenry towards those immigrants. Although my ancestors arrived here legally, I empathise with those who have deemed it necessary to face the difficult challenges entailed in immigrating, even if illegally.

  14. Wow. As a born and bread lakewood kid I couldn’t have worded this any better. Thanks for saying what the silent majority feels.

  15. Bravo! Well said!

    I would just like to add that the letter-writer DID nuance his words with not-so-subtle bigotry.

    Typically, when these type of basement-dwellers pen such letters they use such words as “The Hasids”.

    Be that as it may it does not diminish an iota the well thought out words of Mr. K. Who, as some commentators noted, I do not agree with 99.9 percent of the time.

    We – and I mean the “Orthodox We” – must realize that we live in America, the most democratic country EVER to Jews and that inalienable rights exist to ALL our residents. No matter what our race, creed or religion we must learn to coexist amicably. And as the majority residents the onus of such responsibilty lays squarely on our sholders – from a civil point of view and from a Kiddush Hashem point of view as well.
    A gutten Shabbos and nice weekend to all!

  16. Mr. Kleinhendler:

    Your future is not in national politics or state politics. But you definitely have a future in helping this town. You should use this forum to bring positive change to this town. Once you bring in the liberal politics, you will lose us, because a majority of Lakewood is of the conservative Tea Party political view. But if you stick to fixing our town, you will (hopefully) be very successful.

    I think our good friend Mr. Bill Hobday will agree.

  17. Thank you for a well written article. Very truthful. Everything is not always anti-……… but it has become a catch phase for every group who does not agree with you.

  18. Howard,
    well written article.
    with seichal Hayoshor
    seeing the good in people
    as we say in Engligh “Gut Gezugt”
    thank you

  19. this problem of people not liking the yidden is all over the other day my husband was in lowes and this white guy made a comment that all there are in lowes is jews and mexicas
    today while at shoprite this black lady made the following comment these jew don’t even know how to drive and park. these are just 2 people who have bad feeling for the yidden can you just think of all the others out there who have nasty comments to say yet know has heard them. we need to watch how we act in public because everyone is watching us and judging us.

  20. Nice to see you have some common sense… From all the liberal rambling you have been subjecting us until now, we would have never guessed.

  21. I as a goy would more than welcome any orthodox Jewish family in my neighborhood—period. I would like to suggest to the Jewish family several things I consider paramount to their entry into my neighborhood and I will NOT accept any compromising; the suggestions are as follows:
    1) More Talmud Torah on their part.
    2) More davvening on their part.
    3) More deeds of kindness on their part (Chesed).
    4) Be very, very, very, careful of ALL GOY—including ME !!
    Comments are welcome !!!
    Shabbot Shalom, a goy, Gerry Mullen, Riverside, NJ

  22. This was an amazing letter and again best on Lakewood scoop , as a conservative jew and one who lived in Lakewood for over 40 years and is now , yes, in toms river, it’s well put. Something I would never had said fearing repercussion from the orthodox community and if a non jew said it they were anti semetic. Lakewood from the early 50’s was zoned hotel. So this is why the housing is so dense. Those laws were never changed. You can keep taking from the town , which they have, but at some point it will give, and then what. Again nice article and very true, anyone who thinks it’s not true has no concept of what is going on. I think Mr. Kleinhendler should run for office.

  23. Well said…. another point that should have been addressed in the letter, is the misconception of rudeness by some members of the community. People need to realize many students studying in the Jewish community are not always from this country. A person can say hello or good morning, etc and that person keeps walking. Many people arrive in Lakewood and are lost, may speak another language and may not understand. Then everyone cry’s they are rude… I have personally experienced many local people who are kind…willing to help… The recent Black-out showed the willingness of the Jewish community to help all residents. There seems to be positive changes happening to the board of education. I agree the building is causing alot of traffic…. and that may have to be addressed. But we all must have to learn to get along and set an example.

  24. I like the article and I like and respect the comments. This is the very first time, besides when Matlos was murdered that anything sensible and insightful has been said on this blog. There was none of the stupid dribble that usually appears.

  25. Well done my friend. You can unite all of the people of Lakewood under the same banner. “We the people of the United States are one”.

    Lakewood needs reforms from the Governing Body, and the decision makers. There must be fairness and mutual respect.

    Are you sure that you do not want to leave the dark side and come over to the Conservative Party? You would be very welcome.

  26. Thank you for being so honest. If everyone felt the same was as you and paid attention to other’s needs, there wouldn’t be so much bias and life would be more peaceful for everyone. How many people understand and appreciate your statements? Thank you again

  27. while i agree with most of the points in the op-ed, one thing is totally false. there has not yet been a situatoon in lakewood where frum jews moving into a neighborhood has lowered property values, it has always raised property values. this is the same bogeyman argument that was made when zichron schneur went to the planning board to build the first legal shul in a residential neighborhood in lakewood and that claim was proven false. it is those types of arguments (and the label of “hassidics”) that causes the perception of anti-semitism. even when there may be some legitimate issues that are raised and should be addressed.

  28. Gerry Mullen, the Goy from Riverside, for Mayor !! Either way, Decent letter Mr K. I agree we can’t put shuls/yeshivas wherever we want but we can’t for get the Gemara in Brochos Kul yom v’yom …Bas kol… Hakol nizoinus bishvill Chanina B’nee…if there r no yeshivas, no torah, there IS no Lakewood, Tom’s River etc. Or Google or Apple. And no Internet Asifa. Dudi

  29. Good point but where do we go from here? If you limit denser construction supply will run out and then housing costs will skyrocket. And the very nature of a yeshiva town is we need affordable housing/rentals. I agree schools should not be permitted in residential zones like that big one on neiman and cross street however the fact is we need new schools, lots of them. no easy answers but lots of easy questions.

  30. From what i have Read and seen is just not Right How many people Really Live in Lakewood if you Tally All the Villages, None jews Jewish familes and then all the illegal imagrants i would say lakewood has a population of over 125,000 if not closer to 150,000 people living here in Lakewood

  31. I was walking into the doctors office the other day in Toms River and a goy was walking out with a baby in a carseat , i attempted to hold the door for her but it was very narrow and somehow made it feel more tight. She got all upset at me. Was not worth explaining to her that I was trying to help her. My point being sometimes thet are oversesitive even when we try to be good.

  32. agree, for the first time w/ Mr. K.
    I as an ortho Lakewooder am extremely upset at the dense building that does NOTHING for the aesthetics of our once suburban town.
    a builder knocked down a home across the street from me and put in EIGHT townhouses.
    I understand the need for housing but there should be (and I believe, actually are) zoning laws which the builders manage to get around. obviously someone in the township is OKaying this .)
    they neighbors fought this vigorously and that was the end – the builder originally want TWELVE townhouses.

    To be honest, I dont blame neighboring towns from trying to keep this type of thing out of their town.

  33. to keep things equal I just want to say that I have experienced some extremely rude and nasty comments which really shocked me, because they were completely not called for. There is definitely anti semitism out there. In fact there are certain stores that I avoid because of this.

  34. This is AMERICA!!

    Jews should not have to fight individuals to be free to purchase land and move.

    Every other group has free reign here. You cannot bother people here illegally, you cannot bother toeiva people, you cannot bother people camping out illegally on public land.. BUT….all racism and bigotry has been almost wiped out except for that of antisemitism.

    Those BOZOS in North Dover complaining are doing so for one reason….antisemtism. Well, they will have to get over it and have their and talk about something else at their drunken little pool parties this summer.

    They should be GRATEFUL to have frum neighbors! But they are ignorant, and dont realize that.

  35. Mr K. I respectfully have to disagree with you. It would NOT be “best served” to look at this from a logical view.

    The only view is that of antisemitism.

    The antisemite even comments on “the Hasidics” in the Ocean County Mall…

    It has NOTHING to do with “their perception of overcrowding this and that…”

    You are giving these knee jerk reactionaries more credit than they deserve.

    They dont think about it as you suggest.

    If it were a catholic community buying homes there, they would be honored to be nice to them…

  36. My problem with the new school on Vermont Ave is that it doesn’t seem to have a parking lot. How do you build or open a school with no parking available? It is hard to get through the street safely, there are cars lined up along the shoulder of the road on both sides of the street and the shoulder of the road is not wide enough causing me to drive in the middle, not so bad if no one is coming the other way and people are not walking. This is an unsafe situation for everyone!!!

  37. My views here are my opinions only. I feel that the concern is not so much over devaluation of housing or Antisemitic sentiment but more over the fear of change in general. As someone whose family lived in lakewood for several generations we saw our town go from a quaint “Sleepy town” that we enjoyed to a thriving metropolis. With this change came what always comes with increased economic and populous growth, good and bad: more job and business opportunity, higher crime, range of affordable housing, traffic congestion and so on.

    Clearly there are some individuals who’s motives are hateful but this exists within all groups and against all groups because it is innate human nature to seek to preserve and grow the “Us” and fight and shrink the “Them”. I do not feel this is likely the the majority of the good folks of Dover, but more likely the urge to protect the status quo.

    I for one love the what lakewood has become, the culture is truly alive in this town!

  38. The Correct name of our town is Toms River Township..Dover is up north..That is why we asked to change it many years ago..I actually moved out of Lakewood a few years ago..I was tired of people knocking on my door or approaching me on my weekend looking for me to sell my home to them. I like it when I can walk in front of my home and there is not a parade of individuals that are coming down my block to want to buy my home..I moved out of Lakewood. I wish to keep my neighborhood free of a multitude of car traffic unless I am having a party on a day when I can have it. Thank you..oh and to #48 since you Those BOZOS in North Dover complaining..you bet we are..because you have torn that “town of lakewood apart”. The traffic sucks no matter the time of day and if you have business to conduct it takes you 2x as long to get it done. Thanks again..Have a great winter..

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