05/26/2016: U.S. Department of Justice investigates Toms River's zoning regulations, treatment of S&A client Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River
TOMS RIVER - The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Toms River's zoning laws affecting religious land uses, including the Board of Adjustment's requirement that a rabbi obtain a use variance to continue operating his Church Road home as a house of worship.
"Our investigation will focus on the Township's zoning laws affecting religious land uses," Sameena Shina Majeed, acting chief of the Justice Department's Housing and Civil Enforcement Section, wrote in an April 28 letter to Mayor Thomas F. Kelaher. "We are also reviewing, as part of our investigation, the Township's requirement that Rabbi Moshe Gourarie obtain a use variance in order to engage in religious worship and educational activities at 2001 Church Road."
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"Substantial community opposition to both the Chabad's use and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in general, has targeted the Chabad," according to lawyer Roman P. Storzer, of Storzer & Greene in New York and Washington, D.C., who represents the Chabad.
J. Mikle, "Feds investigate Toms River's zoning laws," Asbury Park Press (May 26, 2016)
The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Toms River's zoning laws with regard to religious uses in the wake of the Board of Adjustment's decision to require a use variance for the Chabad Jewish Center, according to a report. . . .
"Despite its negligible land use effect on the local community and its existence at this location and another residential home in Toms River for 12 years without any negative impacts, substantial community opposition to both the Chabad’s use and to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish population in general, has targeted the Chabad," attorney Roman Storzer, of Storzer & Greene of New York, said, noting the Chabad, at 2001 Church Road, is adjacent to an American Legion Post, a church, and Ocean County College. . . .
A March Bloomberg article last week quoting Kelaher as referring to ultra-Orthodox Jews moving into Toms River as an “invasion” -- which Kelaher said was not his opinion but a recitation of testimony in connection with the real estate soliciting ban -- and incidents of graffiti including the carving of the words “Burn the Jews” into playground equipment at Riverwood Park have only heightened the tensions.
K. Wall, "Justice Department Investigating Toms River Over Zoning, Chabad Denial: Report," Toms River Patch (May 26, 2016)
03/22/2016: Chabad center files suit against Toms River, N.J.
On March 22, 2016, the Chabad Jewish Center of Toms River and Rabbi Moshe Gourarie filed a federal lawsuit against the Township of Toms River and its Zoning Board of Adjustment, challenging the Township's laws and actions prohibiting the continued Chabad's use of their property as a clergy residence. The Chabad had been using their current property and a prior residence as a clergy residence--which included small gatherings of approximately 15 people for weekly prayer services and other infrequent and small religious gatherings--for twelve years without any negative impacts on the community. The federal Complaint states:
[T]he Township and Board have prohibited the Plaintiffs’ use of the Property as a clergy residence, which involves the single-family residence of Rabbi Gourarie and his family, small weekly prayer services of 10-15 people, Hebrew study for five children for two hours per week, and sporadic other small religious gatherings. The Chabad’s property is located directly adjacent to an American Legion hall, a Christian church, and a large college. . . .
These recent actions to shut down the Chabad took place during a rising tide of anti-Semitism among the Toms River government and population, fearful that the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community located in adjacent Lakewood Township will extend into Toms River. In March 2016 the Township’s Mayor, Thomas Kelaher, was recently quoted as describing ultra-Orthodox Jews moving into Toms River as an “invasion,” regarding which he later stated “I have nothing to apologize for. . . . I don’t feel like I did anything wrong.” Further, an Assistant Township Attorney made a following statement regarding an anti-solicitation ordinance designed to prevent ultra-Orthodox Jews from purchasing homes in Toms River, which reads in part: “[D]ealing with this situation is much like a chess game. Every action seems to be countered in one way or another. That is why it requires a collaborative effort between concerned citizens and the governmental apparatus.”
Significant evidence of the anti-Semitic hostility of such “concerned citizens,” which often was directed at the Chabad’s religious use, has frequently appeared online in petitions, on social media and news websites, where statements referred to ultra-Orthodox Jews and/or the Chabad’s use as “cockroaches,” “trash,” a “cult,” “he-brews and she-brews,” a “Jewish conspiracy,” “disgusting phonies,” a “joo school,” “damn jews,” “dirty,” and a “disease,” among many other negative epithets.
The Chabad is represented by the attorneys of S&G and Christopher K. Costa of Kenny Chase & Costa. The Complaint is available here. Media release is available here.
“This cancerous movement targeting a specific religious minority has spread into Toms River,” Storzer said. “The use of local ordinances and land use regulation to build a wall around Lakewood should not be tolerated.”
K. Wall, "Chabad Suit Claims 'Rising Tide Of Anti-Semitism' Influenced Toms River Zoners," Toms River Patch (Mar. 22, 2016).
Now in the latest twist, representatives of the Chabad Jewish Center filed suit Tuesday in federal court against Toms River and its Zoning Board of Adjustment alleging its refusal to allow small weekly prayer services in Rabbi Moshe Gourarie’s home is a civil rights violation spurred by a “rising tide of anti-Semitism” in the community.
"Toms River / Lakewood situation takes new twist," AntiSemitism Watch (Mar. 23, 2016)