Jackson shul approved, first synagogue for Orthodox Jews in town

Posted By on February 8, 2018

What’s the difference between a synagogue, a temple and a shul in Judaism? Mike Davis

Rendering of the Royal Grove Shul, approved to be built on East Veterans Highway in Jackson.(Photo: Courtesy of Royal Grove Shul)

JACKSON -After years of privately gathering in living rooms or walking to a Lakewood synagogue to pray, some of the township’s Orthodox Jews will soon have a shul of their own.

The planning board Monday night unanimously approved plans for a synagogue on East Veterans Highway. The action concludeda relatively quick deliberative process in contrast with the months-long hearings and pitchedlegal battles that have sprung from other religious land-use controversies.

“Shul” is an Orthodox Jewish term for synagogue, a house of worship in the Jewish faith. Reform Jews refer to their houses of worship as temples,which you can learn more about in the video at the top of the page.

The Royal Grove Shul is expected to open in about two years, replacing a house near the intersection with Grand Boulevard, principal Sam Heller said.

The facility will host two 45-minute prayer services, mornings and evenings, six days per week. On Saturdayswhen Jews celebrate the Sabbaththe services last two to three hours.

MORE: Jackson subject of DOJ, AG investigations over discrimination

More: POLL: Should Jackson have rejected shul on safety grounds?

The shul will also include a social room for gatherings, a women’s prayer sanctuary, two private study rooms and a basement with mikvahsbaths used for a Jewish purification rituals separated for men and women.

Residents examine blueprints for a shul in Jackson.(Photo: Mike Davis)

While the vote was unanimous, multiple board members qualified their decisions.

Some shared concerns about whether the shul could handle a congregation operating at maximum capacity: Although Heller expects no more than 100 people at the shul on the busiest days, it can hold up to 300 people.

There are quite a few families moving right around that area, Heller said. But the reality of 100 is overestimated. On any given day, its 20 to 30 people 50 people, maximum.

Under Jewish law, Jews cannot operate machinery or electricity including driving a car on the Sabbath. As a result, Jews often walk from place to place on Saturdays, including prayer services.

But that’s a risky endeavor on East Veterans Highway, a county road with a 50mph speed limit, board member Robert Hudak said.

I have real safety concerns with possibly 100 people walking at 11 p.m. on this road, Hudak said. It just concerns me. Thats a tough road. The speed limit is up there.

Royal Grove Shul has already received Ocean County approval but will seek an easement to construct a sidewalk,said Ray Shea, the synagogue’s attorney. That sidewalk would connect it to the nearby Royal Grove neighborhood, which has a large Jewish population.

That would beideal, even though its not required by law. We want what you want: safety, Shea said.

Blueprints for a shul in Jackson.(Photo: Mike Davis)

If approved, Royal Grove would become the township’s onlyformal shul. Butprayer services are regularly held in private homes, asJewish law only requires a quorum of 10 men. If a synagogue is not within walking distance, a home service is usually held.

Last month, a Jackson homeownersued the township over alleged “stake outs” of his home during evening and Sabbath prayer servicesafter complaints from a township council member and numerous residents.

The township’s code compliance supervisor reported that no violations occurred and the township administrator even admonished the activity as a “waste of valuable time and money,” akin to “chasing ghosts.”

LAWSUIT: Jackson ordered Sabbath ‘stake out’ of Orthodox Jewish prayer services

The synagogue plan is the latest bone of contention among some of Jackson’s longtime residents, who have complained of unwanted culturalas the town’s Orthodox Jewish community continues to grow. The latter has gone to court to push back against what it perceived as unlawful religious discrimination.

On Monday night, the stated concerns were largely limited to safety.Its a 50 mph road, but nobody drives 50 mph. Were all human. Its 55 mph, 60 mph, said Monarch Court resident Gene Quintieri. Its just not safe.

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On occasion, however, the tension usually boils over on social media and at public meetings around particular hot-button issues, including about religious symbols and land-use matters. Anti-Semitic comments have become commonplace among the vitriol.

Last year, hours of public testimony were heard over moves to ban construction of schools and dormitories in most areas of town.

Later, council members changed a previouslyforgotten law in a way that prevented a group ofOrthodox Jewsfrom constructing an eruv, a wire boundary strung along utility poles that allows practicing Jews to carry objects on the Sabbath and certain holidays.

RELATED: Is Jackson’s eruv ban anti-Semitism?

The council was sued over both controversial moves, later reversingthe decisions and entering mediation.

The Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office are investigating whether the township discriminated against Orthodox Jews in both cases.

Mike Davis; @byMikeDavis; 732-643-4223; mdavis@gannettnj.com

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Jackson shul approved, first synagogue for Orthodox Jews in town

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