Mahwah, NJ – While Mahwah residents say they were blindsided by the eruv that was erected in their township, at least some village officials were aware of the eruv plans weeks ago.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2h13FiJ), Mahwah residents discovered last week that an eruv had been put up in their township after noticing white PVC piping appearing on numerous utility poles.
Township officials notified the eruv committee that the piping violated a town ordinance against posting signs on utility poles and gave the committee until August 4th to remove the eruv.
A grassroots effort to remove the eruv, which relies almost entirely on the existing telephone wires instead of the usual string, kicked off Monday night at an emotional meeting held in a local park.
Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz of the Monsey Eruv said that all of the work done in New Jersey was done legally and with the approval of both the utility company, Orange and Rockland, and local officials. He was quick to note that the eruv extension in New Jersey was intended to be a service Orthodox Jewish residents in the southernmost parts of Rockland County, including Suffern, Airmont and Chestnut Ridge.
“The only way to get these areas inside the eruv was to go into New Jersey,” said Rabbi Steinmetz. “It is the same as bringing water from one state to another and the same as bringing electricity from one state to another. The only way to be able to include those residents in the eruv was to bring the eruv across the border.”
Rabbi Steinmetz explained that the act of putting up an eruv does not mean that an area will suddenly be overrun by Orthodox Jewish residents.
“Manhattan has had an eruv for over 50 years,” observed Rabbi Steinmetz. “Brooklyn has an eruv as do Teaneck, Paramus, Passaic, West Orange and many other towns. Places with large amounts of Jewish people typically have an eruv. It doesn’t mean that an entire area will be taken over. It is simply done as a service for the Jewish people who live there.”
Chief James Batelli of the Mahwah Police Department said that he received a group email in May from Orange and Rockland advising recipients of the plans for the eruv. While Batelli said that he did not pay much attention to the identity of the other recipients, he confirmed that the email was also sent to the Mahwah Town Hall.
Mayor Bill Laforet, who has said previously that he was unaware of the eruv until last week, told VIN News that he did not receive the Orange and Rockland email and does not typically receive communications of that nature. Laforet said that the email would have gone to the township’s business administrator Quentin Wiest, who did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Batelli said that the Mahwah Police Department was involved in the installation of the PVC pipes, with a special police detail hired to ensure traffic safety during the installation, which took place in June.
“It was handled consistently with any other traffic detail,” Batelli told VIN News.
All of the necessary documentation was approved by the Mahwah Police Department which verified that the contractors had proper insurance and that all documentation required by the township had been submitted.
“To be honest, it went off without any issues,” said Batelli.
Batelli declined to comment on whether the piping violated the township’s sign ordinances, saying that that was a matter best left to other agencies within the town.
“What I will say is that we were aware that Orange and Rockland had given permission for the eruv to be installed,” said Batelli. “They own the poles. The installation company followed all of the required processes for the township.”
Orange and Rockland spokesman Mike Donovan said that the eruv installations are permitted by law and that the company’s poles are often used to hold equipment such as fiber optic cable, security cameras and license plate scanners.
“They pay a fee to be on the poles, the same way that the eruv people pay,” explained Donovan, who said that the company charges approximately $13 per month per pole for the eruv.
Donovan said that he could not comment on whether or not the usage of the Mahwah poles was compliant with township ordinances, noting that it is the responsibility of those who use the poles to make sure that local law allows them to place equipment on the utility poles.
According to Donovan, the Mahwah eruv consists of 113 poles, each of which has 22 foot long, one inch wide rubber tubing installed flush with the utility pole. Another 40 poles in Upper Saddle River and 27 in Montvale are currently being outfitted with PVC piping for the eruv.
While Donovan said that the utility has received questions about the eruv in the past, he has never seen the kind of outcry that has erupted in Mahwah.
“We have never seen anything on this scale before,” said Donovan. “We usually get a flurry of questions right away in a new area but then it kind of dies down.”
An editorial published Monday on NJ.com (https://njersy.co/2h0vl7s) chastised Mahwah for its stance on the eruv, arguing that the eruv is “a reasonable religious accommodation” and not signage.
The editorial also noted that Tenafly officials spent six years engaged in a costly legal battle against an eruv, ultimately allowing the eruv to expand its borders.
The paper writes, “We understand some may not like the aesthetics of the piping, just as some people don’t like solar panels attached to utility poles. But one, these are utility poles, not majestic oaks. And two, the ability to worship without government interference is a constitutional right.
There is no constitutional right to a sign that tells motorists this is an Elks town or that a commercial place of business is a mile to the left, but plain markers that allow observant Jews to push a baby stroller are not in the same league.”