The hasidic residents of Lakewood, NJ are feeling a little crowded and are setting their sights on planting roots in nearby communities. The Herald-Whig has a story about the problems that existing nearby residents are dealing with as the hasidim try to expand their territory. Some of the methods hasidim are using when approaching existing home owners regarding the sale of their properties in the town of Toms River border on harassment and intimidation. And the aggressive behavior has prompted some towns, including Toms River, to update their “no-knock” rules to include real estate inquiries to limit soliciting.
James Jackson wasn’t interested in selling his home but thanked the black-suited man for his interest anyway.
That’s when the man put his hand on Jackson’s shoulder and told him he might want to reconsider. Many of his neighbors in the New Jersey shore town of Toms River, the man said, already planned to sell to Jewish buyers like those he represented.
“He asked me why I would want to live in a Hasidic neighborhood if I wasn’t Hasidic,” Jackson recalled. “He asked if I would really be happy, if it would be in my family’s best interests.”
A housing crunch in Lakewood, home to one of the nation’s largest populations of Hasidic Jews, has triggered what residents of neighboring communities say are overly aggressive, all-hours solicitations from agents looking to find homes for the rapidly growing Jewish community.
Samuel Heilman, a sociology professor at Queens College in New York City and a leading authority on Orthodox Judaism, says he doubts that such laws are anti-Semitic in their origins. But he notes that the measures may now be invoked more aggressively by people trying to keep Orthodox Jews out of their neighborhoods, for fear the area will become a Hasidic community.
“The problem is structural: Hasidim live in Hasidic communities predominantly. They can only move as groups,” said Heilman. “That leads to counter-moves by other groups who do not want their community to be inundated by them.”
Municipal leaders stress that their laws are not aimed at keeping out any groups, but rather to protect residents.
“Our ‘no knock’ law goes back many years. It’s not just in response to what has been happening now,” Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said. “We are trying to protect those people from conduct that’s outrageous, harassing, intimidating or unwelcome.”
Jackson said he was working outside his home last fall when he was unexpectedly approached by the man in the black suit. The encounter was initially cordial but turned darker, he said.
“He was trying to intimidate me, but not in a physical way,” Jackson said. “He was playing mind games, and he was really good at it.”
Toms River is also in the process of creating “cease and desist” zones, where door-to-door real estate soliciting would be banned in designated areas that have been inordinately and repeatedly solicited. The ordinance is modeled on one in New York state that held up in court despite objections from realty groups.