New Jersey town fights anti-Semitic image to become model for neighbors

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Attendees meet during the launch party of Lakewood Neighbors in Dec. 2017. Photo by Lior Elkayam, courtesy of Lakewood Neighbors

LAKEWOOD, N.J. (RNS) — Like any rapidly expanding exurb, this town of 103,000 residents 1 1/2 hours south of Manhattan along the Jersey Shore has received its influx of outsiders with trepidation about the changing nature of their home turf.

One thing that makes Lakewood different is that nearly half the town’s population boom over the past three decades is primarily the result of the arrival of Orthodox Jews, who have nearly doubled the town’s rolls just since 2000.

Now the fastest growing town in New Jersey and the largest in Ocean County, Lakewood and its surrounding area is experiencing what urban policy analysts call a demographic tipping point: the moment when a geography’s character changes unalterably. That has led to a social and civic dispute that has touched issues of density, land-use, zoning restrictions and, according to natives and newcomers alike, ugly outbreaks of anti-Semitism.