Residents in NJ town prepare for legal fight over religious boundary around Mahwah

MAHWAH, N.J. — A battle is brewing in a North Jersey community over a religious boundary.

White piping has been installed on utility poles in Mahwah to extend an eruv.

At a regularly scheduled city council meeting tonight, hundreds of residents showed up to voice their opposition to the Orthodox Jewish enclosure.

A group called "Mahwah Strong" is leading the charge against the eruv.

The group now has over a thousand members, started a petition and has retained an attorney to represent them in what could be a prolonged court fight.

Mahwah Strong contends this is simply about protecting property values and abiding by an ordinance, rather than trying to keep out a certain group of people.

Hundreds attended the packed City Council meeting at the Mahwah Senior Center at 7:30 p.m. Thursday evening. Some arrived an hour early to make sure they could get in. With good reason, as the room filled up and many were ushered to an area in the basement where they could view the meeting on a monitor.

Things got contentious at various moments, including when Mahwah resident Brian Riback spoke openly to those in the room, including Council members, "You have no idea what you're up against." The audience applauded loudly.

Riback and several others were admonished by the Council. One council member repeatedly stopping to warn speakers against making inflammatory statements about religion.

"We will not be discussing any particular religious organization," said the Council Member.

Emotions were running high over the white piping on utility poles that are at the center of the controversy.

The piping marks a religious enclosure called an eruv, which symbolically extends the private domain of a Jewish home in public areas - permitting Orthodox Jews to participate in activities banned on the sabbath - things like carrying keys or pushing strollers.

Longtime Mahwah resident Dolores Gianni said initially, she wasn't aware of what the markers stood for, but she has been noticing an influx of people in Mahwah.

"When I bring my grandchildren to the parks, bus loads are sitting in the park with people in it who the hell are they?" asked Gianni.

The eruv is being built by a Rockland County Jewish group. Due to several federal lawsuits, utility companies have allowed the markings.

The township has told South Monsey Eruv Fund to take them down, citing the violation of a Mahwah zoning regulation that bans signs on utility poles.

But is this a mere loophole to get rid of the eruv?

Attorney Conrad Olear, who represents Mahwah Strong, called it "despicable" that the story has been "twisted" to be one about discriminating against a religion.

The group steadfastly insists they're not discriminating against Jews. Rather, it's simply about protecting property values and issues like school funding.

"None of their kids go to the school and they taken all the money and put them in the yeshivas and that's the reality of what's coming," Riback.

The township has sent a letter to the group who had the markers put up. They're demanding the piping be removed because they're violating the sign ordinance. If the piping is not taken down by August 4th, summonses and fines can be issued.