Rise Up Ocean County – a self-described “movement” that began on Facebook about 10 months ago – is calling upon residents of Ocean County to resist efforts of the local Jewish community, particularly in Lakewood, to expand.
The movement, which mainly comprises nine administrators, began when leaders of the group found that county officials were not responding to their concerns, a RUOC representative told The Jewish Press. “We realized that the only way our elected officials would pay attention was if we were louder, with more people speaking up.”
The representative said the group’s goal is rally the public and “do everything in their power to slow and manage the projected growth.” To this end, RUOC plans to release a documentary – “OC 2030” – on February 18 about the deleterious impact it claims the further expansion of the Orthodox community will have.
RUOC consistently denies being anti-Semitic, but many find its Facebook posts and videos unmistakably anti-Jewish. One video, for example features Martin Niemoller’s famous poem “First they came for the socialists…” – which is associated with the Holocaust – over footage of Lakewood Jews. The video urges community members not to be complacent as their land is bought up and to raises their voices before it’s “too late.”
“Any video where the narrator corrupts one of the most widely-recognized Holocaust poems is obviously sending messages that are purposeful in their divisive attitude,” Michael Cohen, East Coast Director of the Wiesenthal Center told the Jewish Press.
On Sunday, RUOC removed and apologized for the video, acknowledging that it “may have crossed a line.” At the same time, however, it declared that its “efforts will continue unabated” and added the term “anti-Gentilism” to its logo. “Anti-Gentilism,” its website explains, “is a hostile, prejudiced attitude toward non-Jews,” adding, “For as long as those that oppose our efforts insist on referring to us as anti-Semitic then we think it only appropriate to address them as anti-Gentilic.”
In another of RUOC’s videos, the narrator lists reasons why the group has targeted Lakewood, including “corruption in politics, waste, fraud and abuse, and the centralized power structure in the community.” RUOC asserts that “half of [Lakewood’s Jewish] population will receive welfare benefits,” which, if its rapid birth rate continues, will lead to the county’s “utter destruction.”
Other videos target Rabbi Kotler and other administrative figures in the Lakewood community, painting them as “Elders of Zion figures” while battle music plays in the background.
Are RUOC’s concerns justified? Many say no. RUOC argues that if the Lakewood Jewish community and Jewish communities in other areas of Ocean County continue to grow, residents will have to pay greater taxes because “half of the [Orthodox] community is on welfare.” But federal welfare costs are distributed among the population at large and does not affect local tax rates, said one Lakewood resident who wished to remain anonymous. “This does not affect the broader area nor give someone the right to target that town,” he said.
If anything, noted the resident, the more people in the area, the better it is for everyone: “Every house in Lakewood is paying around $8,000 in property taxes. Even if the population triples, it just triples the amount of money paid in property taxes.”
Drew Staffenberg, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Ocean County, said RUOC often makes questionable assertions. “I’m not so sure that the majority of people in Lakewood are on welfare, said Staffenberg. “Many of the men, and wives, go into the city for work; they’re white-washing a whole group of people.” The community even services itself, financing its own ambulance and social services, Staffenberg said.
Rabbi Kotler added that even if problems exist, every town has issues and that “doesn’t mean you can justify calling people to rise up against an entire population.”
“Their supposed concerns…are simply fear mongering and anti-Semitic in nature,” said Avi Greenstein, executive officer of the Boro Park Community Council. Greenstein, RUOC-like rhetoric is also being used in Rockland County, NY. He said Rabbi Aaron Fink, dean of Ateres Bais Yaakov in New Hempstead, recently tried to purchase a building for his small Bais Yaakov in Nanuet. During a Town Hall meeting, residents yelled at Rabbi Fink, “We don’t want you here,” and objected to letting “those people” into their neighborhood, said Greenstein.
“Most members of Ocean County would rather resolve these matters peacefully,” said Staffenberg. “It’s really just a small group of people that want to rile everybody up and create unrest.” Any tension that arises, said Staffenberg, is generally a result of misunderstandings and misconceptions.
Meanwhile, the Wiesenthal Center sent a resolution to different areas in Ocean County, like Jackson and Toms River, calling on Council members to “oppose and condemn the activity of Rise Up Ocean County.” The Lakewood City Council passed the resolution.