WOODCLIFF LAKE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — On the same day the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new initiative to prevent religious discrimination, the federal government announced they’re suing a borough in New Jersey over its treatment of a Jewish group.
In a tiny wooded area of Woodcliff Lake, there’s a Jewish house of worship that sits along the Garden State Parkway that’s become the center of a big controversy.
Rabbi Dov Drizin says the ordeal has been “painful.” For years he’s been trying to buy land so he could expand Valley Chabad, which he’s been running out of his home on Overlook Drive since 2000.
Every time he tries, the borough has said “no deal” to the Orthodox Jewish group.
“We have not been allowed to observe and to celebrate as we need to,” Drizin said.
Valley Chabad, which runs a synagogue, Hebrew school, and social events has no structured membership and therefore no formal dues. They run on donations and have grown in popularity by the hundreds.
“It’s unique, it’s different, but we’re one big community,” Drizin said.
Now, the borough has also rejected a proposal to expand on the property it already owns.
“It violates the federal Constitution. It violates specific federal laws also,” Drizin’s attorney, Robert Greene, said.
With the federal government announcing it’s suing the borough under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, the U.S. Attorney’s Office seems to agree.
“We alleged that over an 8 year period the town stopped every effort by the group to purchase an alternative worship site and then denied it permission to expand on its property,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.
According to the suit, the zoning board cited aesthetic concerns, adverse impact on the residential character of the neighborhood, and safety issues to deny the application.
CBS2 reached out to the borough administrator and two of its attorneys, none of whom responded. Drizin is still having weekend services, but for larger services and holidays has to rent out space from a hotel and VFW hall.
“There is some part of being misunderstood, misinformation,” Drizin said. “We’re not here as outsiders.”
The rabbi wonders if and when that perception will change, and hopes the federal lawsuit helps. The Chabad also has its own lawsuit pending against the borough, and both Drizin and his attorney say they’re not sure what their next move is.