Waters, Weisberg trade rhetoric in Lakewood

Staff Writer

Waters, Weisberg trade
rhetoric in Lakewood
Staff Writer

LAKEWOOD — Their dialogue was not spoken, but in separate letters released to the media recently, Lakewood NAACP head James Waters and Orthodox Jewish community spokesman Rabbi Moshe Zev Weisberg turned up the volume on an already strident exchange about race, religion and allegations of preferential treatment.

"The members of our community, as well as myself, were traumatized by the negative racist ‘riffraff’ reference directed at people commenting at a [Board of Education] meeting," Waters wrote in a letter to Superintendent of Schools Dr. Ernest Cannava and board President Chet Galdo. "It was expressly offensive to many from our community that feel a lack of representation on this board."

Waters’ criticism stemmed from a comment made by board member Meir Grunhut at an Oct. 27 board meeting. Although Weisberg was not the intended recipient of Waters’ letter, he faxed his response to a Tri-Town News reporter several days later.

"You charge Mr. Grunhut with being insensitive for unknowingly using a word that you feel is a pejorative term. He did not know that the term was offensive and has apologized clearly, publicly and immediately," Weisberg wrote to Waters.

But an apology was not sufficient to alleviate minority residents’ concerns of exclusion, according to Waters’ letter.

"People that attend public meetings need to have comfort in the belief that those elected will listen to their concerns and complaints," he wrote to Cannava.

Free speech is a two-way street, according to Weisberg.

"Jim, what is your record on offensive speech?" asked Weisberg. "You constantly deride the Jewish community with insults and classic anti-Semitic language.

"Perhaps the most blatant big lie is the NAACP position on [courtesy] busing," said Weisberg. "Along with a handful of radical seniors, you promote the absurd notion that putting small Jewish kids at risk by forcing them to cross police-designated hazardous roads [such as Route 9] will somehow improve the academic achievement of minority children."

"Mr. NAACP, all the kids of Lakewood — white, Latino, African-American, Catholic and Jewish — have the right to demand from their government that they get to school safely and efficiently," continued Weisberg. "Yes, it costs money [but] don’t you feel an obligation to keep a Jewish kid out of harm’s way? Can’t a township like Lakewood make a statement that it cares about the safety of all its kids?"

For his part, Waters said he and his community just wanted some respect.

"Is Jim Waters anti-Semitic?" asked Waters rhetorically during an interview with the Tri-Town News shortly before he faxed the paper a copy of his letter to Cannava. "As a civil rights advocate, [I] have to stand up to racism, sexism and any threats to homosexuals or Muslims who are receiving any kind of injustice. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere."

Weisberg expressed scorn at Waters’ assertion that he was a champion of the oppressed.

"Your self-appointment as the champion of the Latino community is laughable," wrote Weisberg. "What have you or the Lakewood NAACP done for that commu­nity? The record of the Jewish community with the creation of the Hispanic Task Force and more than 1,000 Lakewood English as a Second Language class gradu­ates speaks for itself."

But everything always comes down to just one argument, said Waters, and that was a matter he contended the Jewish resi­dents of Lakewood could never hope to un­derstand or to improve through well-mean­ing social programs they put in place.

"I told Rabbi Weisberg that I didn’t look at him as an Orthodox, but as a white per­son," Waters told the Tri-town News. "Jewish people can change their names, black people can never change their skin color. You can’t get away from your skin color. Privilege comes to people in our soci­ety, but one thing that’s been the [same over the years] is the disadvantage [you face] when you are a person of color."

Despite their difference of opinion, Weisberg held out hope that he and Waters could once again work together for the im­provement of both their communities.

"Is it too late to put all of this behind us and be friends again?" wrote Weisberg. "I hope not. For our sake, for our children’s sake and for the future of all of us in this great town of Lakewood."