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Toms River, New Jersey Mayor Sends Out Mailer Implying Orthodox Jewish Community “Threatening the Way of Life” in Town

Last week, residents of Toms River, New Jersey, which houses a growing Orthodox Jewish community one hour south of New York City, received a campaign mailer from Mayor Mo Hill that some are describing as antisemitic.
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May 23, 2023

Last week, residents of Toms River, New Jersey, which houses a growing Orthodox Jewish community one hour south of New York City, received a campaign mailer from Mayor Mo Hill that some are describing as antisemitic.

After mentioning the challenges of the last four years, including “COVID, the presidential election, the woke culture war, the reality and threat of global military conflicts [and] rampant inflation,” the mayor went on to list another problem: “People of different cultures fleeing the cities buying up our real estate; attracted by our location and affordability, they are seemingly threatening the way of life that attracts them.”

“People of different cultures fleeing the cities buying up our real estate; attracted by our location and affordability, they are seemingly threatening the way of life that attracts them.” – Mayor Mo Hill

When Tova Herskovitz, an Orthodox Jewish resident of Toms River as well as a community organizer got the mailer, she sent an open letter to the mayor and posted it on her Twitter.

In the letter, she wrote about how she was worried about her 12-year-old son checking the mail because of the flyer. She pointed out how the Orthodox community is not at fault for the problems facing Toms River, a place that was growing at a rate of 17.5% from 1990 to 2000, and then faced a drop to 1.7% growth from 2000 to 2010 as the local population aged and their children moved away.

“Before you, or your desperate council members, point to the Orthodox community to blame, we only began moving here (in very small numbers) in 2015,” she wrote. “An Orthodox population that you, Mayor Hill, know very well does not endorse large scale housing developments and moved here precisely to enjoy the quieter pace.”

She continued, “You paint a dire picture of an idyllic suburban lifestyle destroyed by outsiders. Actually, it’s the insiders who have been hurting this lovely town that I’m proud to call home. Moving forward, I hope that we can work together to find solutions to the issues facing our city, rather than pointing fingers and spreading harmful messages.”

After seeing Herskovitz’s letter, as well as a callout from Agudas Yisrael, an American Orthodox Jewish organization, Hill put out a statement that attempted to shift the blame to his political opponents.

According to Lakewood Alerts, Hill wrote, “The gap between what was actually written on my campaign flyer, what we intended to convey, and how it was received by you and some other members of the Orthodox Jewish community is astonishingly wide. This is an indication of how far we are from understanding each other and how much work we have to do together to be better neighbors… Here’s my dilemma: How do I address the fears and frustrations of some residents about the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community, without offending some members of the Orthodox Jewish community? So far, my attempts at bridging the gap without upsetting or offending anyone, on all sides, have not been successful … In my defense, I am the only candidate for mayor who is attempting to bridge the gap. Each of my opponents has demonstrated their intention to exploit the bigotry and frustration for their own political gain.”

In an interview with the Journal, Herskovitz said she wrote the letter because, “I didn’t want [Hill] or his campaign to think that he could get away with such dangerous rhetoric. I wanted to send them a message that we see their actions, we’re offended and we’re going to respond accordingly. Both with our voice and our vote.”

She said the mailer was a surprise – especially since members of the Orthodox Jewish community voted for Hill, a Republican who graduated from Lakewood High School and worked as a dentist, in the 2020 election.

“I was horrified to see such blatant hate speech in a mailer and a bit in shock that someone who was once considered a friend and got elected through the community could speak this way,” she said. “Everyone I’ve spoken to has said that it stunned them with it’s outright hate. It’s especially hard when you don’t expect it, whereas the other side in the primary has been problematic for years.”

According to a February 2022 article in the Asbury Park Press, a local paper in New Jersey, the town was facing two lawsuits that said Toms River was “engaged in an orchestrated campaign” to keep the Orthodox Jewish community from expanding. At the time, the cases were active in a federal court.

In a response to the recent mailer, Ocean County Republican Party Chairman George R. Gilmore put out a statement condemning Hill, along with Councilman Dan Rodrick, who is also running for mayor, for “hateful rhetoric.”

“The actions by Mo Hill and Dan Rodrick are disgraceful and have no place in our party,” said Gilmore. “We have seen this before when others have tried to divide the residents of our county using the same hateful rhetoric. Leaders from around the county stood united and condemned those actions. I am calling on every Republican  – Commissioners, Legislators, and local leaders alike – to join me in condemning this abhorrent behavior.”

For her part, Herskovitz is disappointed in Hill’s response as well as his actions. She said that since becoming mayor, he has not followed through with campaign promises.

“His actions since he was elected were not aligned with his words of promoting unity. And actions, like sending that mailer, speak louder than words.”

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