Fighting for Religious Inclusion in New Jersey

So proud of my friend and colleague Rabbi Elliott Tepperman for helping lead the charge toward religious inclusion in New Jersey!

From the New Jersey Jewish News:

Motivated by what he called “the Jewish obligation to welcome the stranger,” Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Montclair is leading a drive to support the building of an Islamic cultural center in Bridgewater, a plan that has met with strong opposition from some of its neighbors…

In a Feb. 18 e-mail letter cowritten by Tepperman and cosigned by 20 other rabbis, one cantor, and five rabbinical students, the religious leader of the Reconstructionist Bnai Keshet synagogue called on the people of Bridgewater “to affirm their commitment to religious freedom and to seriously consider options that would allow for the building of this mosque within its borders.”

…To Tepperman, land-use issues pose “a reasonable question. I know one has to be careful with that because often potentially legitimate concerns are pushed up against much less legitimate concerns. In one breath, people say things very much deserving of consideration, like parking. Then, in the next breath, they say, ‘And we’re concerned if it might be a terrorist organization.’ When I hear those things side-by-side it makes me very suspicious that parking is not the main concern and the concerns are primarily being fueled by prejudiced assumptions about Muslims.”


2 Comments on “Fighting for Religious Inclusion in New Jersey”

  1. Thanks for signal-boosting this story.

    As an FYI, that letter — which I drafted — has subsequently been revised, per the request of the local community, who asked us not to give weight to the spurious terrorism claims by mentioning them in our letter. Here’s the revised text:

    ***
    Dear friends,

    It has come to our attention that the Muslim community in Bridgewater, NJ, would like to build a community center, named the al-Falah Center. The center would hold a mosque and prayer space, as well as a daycare and a K-8 elementary school. Their plans are to build it on the property which was formerly the Redwood Inn, which they have rented in the past.

    Bridgewater is already a religiously diverse community, home to seventeen Christian churches, a convent, a Jewish synagogue, two Hindu temples, and one Sikh temple. The organizers of the al-Falah center have promised not to broadcast the call to prayer, out of consideration for their neighbors.

    The Muslim community has run into difficulties, and the Bridgewater Planning Board has adopted a change in the town’s Master Plan which now recommends that the town change its zoning ordinances.

    Such a change in land use zoning is illegal under the law known as RLUIPA, which states that “No government shall impose or implement a land use regulation in a manner that imposes a substantial burden on the religious exercise of a person, including a religious assembly or institution.”

    Changing land use zoning in order to block the construction of a minority community’s house of worship is a classic tactic of discrimination. We believe that it is unjust to change the neighborhood’s zoning in order to keep the Muslim community from gathering there.

    Those who would worship at the alFalah Center are not outsiders to the Bridgewater community; they are part of that community, and have expressed the clear desire to accomodate the neighborhood’s concerns.

    Our religious community has living memory of being mistreated for our differences, and we believe that we have an obligation to speak out against such mistreatment of others. The verse most often repeated in Torah is “Love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” The Talmud tells us that this verse appears in the Torah 36 times; it must be important.

    May we all be moved by Torah’s call to place ourselves in the other’s shoes. It is our fervent prayer that the various communities who call Bridgewater home find a way to relate to one another in compassion and understanding, not in mistrust and fear. May it happen speedily and in our day.
    ***

    I’m further informed that the Bridgewater Muslim community has offered to take the religious school out of their plans, in a further attempt to work with the broader local community and to address their traffic concerns.

  2. When good people like us are pushed in the corner and start standing up for what is just and refuse the politics of divide and rule, we find that amazing alliances can be made between people of good will. This seriously undermines the status quo. Let us continue to work for real democracy and justice by going the whole nine yards and taking the oppressors to court. When all else fails, (and it is failing) we have the streets and boycotts which hurt despotic governments and those who keep them in power the most.


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