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Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Grove United’

Ocean Grove United demonstrating in the Grove. Mary Walton photograph. 2012

Editorial by Paul Goldfinger, Blogfinger.net

This past Mischief Night, some individuals “vandalized cars with swastikas and racial slurs in Ocean Grove.” (APP 11/7/18)  The Neptune Police Department said that they were not viewing the incident as a bias crime or anything “politically motivated.”

Deputy Mayor Carol Rizzo   (a Grover) said  (APP), “The community should view this as simply ‘something that happened during Mischief Night. I don’t think we should give it anymore credence than that. ‘”

The descriptions of the event in the news did not include any anti-Semitic language, and swastikas are not necessarily anti-Semitic symbols.  Some kids, like punk rockers, may draw a swastika without thinking of Jews.    The “N word” was also found, according to the APP.

A representative, Joshua Cohen, of the NJ Regional Office of ADL said, “The swastika has become a ubiquitous symbol in graffiti, but it does not always carry “anti-Semitic intent.”

He also said, “A random swastika appearing in a neutral location is an entirely different proposition than compared to one on a synagogue.”

“Incidents involving the image found with no accompanying anti-Semitic imagery or writing on, say, a dumpster at a 7-Eleven or an overpass on the Garden State Parkway, fall into a category that the ADL has stopped including in its annual audit of anti-Jewish hate crimes. There is no indication that such cases specifically target Jews.”

Cohen concluded by saying, “Regardless of the specific intent, it would be a mistake to minimize the swastika. It shocks the conscience, and we all know what it is. It’s a hate symbol.”

The NTPD was going to investigate the possibility of a “hate crime,” but they have so far come up with nothing.

OGU is joining forces with the OGHOA to fan the flames of controversy when other such incidents did not occur before or since that night.

But, the OGU/HOA combined complainers consortium (CCC) have invited the Anti-Defamation League  (ADL), an international organization that fights anti-Semitism world-wide,  to come here in January to “speak on this issue.”

Is this what the members of the Home Groaners want their organization to get involved with?  And why is the HOA having any sort of joint activity with the highly partisan group ironically called Ocean Grove United.

It is almost laughable for the OGU and its ally the Home Groaners to jump on this bandwagon. Jews have been subject to all sorts of murder and mayhem since the times of the Romans, so the Jewish people have largely developed a thick skin over minor incidents such as what the OGU and HOA are jumping up and down over in Ocean Grove.

The ADL says, “Anti-Semitism is the belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish.”

Is that what’s going on in the Grove?  Doesn’t the ADL have some terrorism, synagogue shootings, or murders of civilians to spend their time with?

The truth is that anti-Semitism does not “have a home” in the Grove, and many Jewish people live here without such concerns.

Most popular sentiment in the Grove is to assume the Halloween vandalism to be the work of ignorant out-of-towners, probably kids looking for trouble.  Most think that the incident should have been dropped as an indicator of bias in this town, and as a news story, it lasted about 24 hours, with no noise coming out of the Grove.

OGU, a group that seems to be in a deep sleep most of the time, reappears, like Brigadoon,  whenever they find an excuse to complain about bias in the Grove.  They say that the ADL meeting in January is “in response to the concerns of Ocean Grove residents.”

Perhaps they should tell us how many OG residents would like to see the big guns  (ADL) brought into the Grove to satisfy those “concerns?”

In our recent piece about the “hate has no home here” signs, we had a flurry of opinions in the Comments, but hardly any concern about the Mischief Night event.

In America we live in a free society, one which is not perfect and where hate is sometimes expressed and where such hate needs to be opposed, but Ocean Grove is not such a place.

Addendum:  This Blogfinger article below says a lot about Ocean Grove United:

OGU slams the Camp Meeting Association 2016

NICOLAI RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  “The Flight of the Bumblebee”

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Ocean Grove, Main Avenue. July 4, 2009. Paul Goldfinger photo ©  Click to enlarge

Ocean Grove, Main Avenue. July 4, 2009. Paul Goldfinger photo ©  Click to enlarge

A letter appeared in the June 2, 2016 edition of the Coaster entitled, “Disappointed in Ocean Grove” It was from Ocean Grove United.

 

Letter to the Editor. the Coaster, June 2, 2016.

Letter to the Editor. the Coaster, June 2, 2016.  Click to enlarge.

 

This is not the first time that OGU has taken a public stance regarding  religious leaders who speak at the Sunday services during the summer. The group complained about Kurt Cameron, about Mike Huckabee and about Rabbi Jonathan Cahn. They have pressured the CMA to only  invite certain speakers who pass their litmus test.

Last August 17, when Rev. Tony Campolo appeared in the Grove,  OGU held a demonstration in Auditorium Square Park welcoming him to the Great Auditorium.   Here is a link.

https://blogfinger.net/2015/08/17/ogu-clams-up-and-stifles-free-speech-in-the-shadows-of-the-great-auditorium/

This season Campolo was not invited to speak in the Great Auditorium, presumably because of his known favorable stance regarding  gays in the Church.

So now we have this letter condemning the CMA for not embracing Campolo in Ocean Grove this year.

Of course OGU has a right to express its opinion, but  this letter is full of obfuscation instead of clarity of meaning. Where in the letter do we find the words “gay,” or “Camp Meeting Association?”  Why does the headline confuse “Ocean Grove” with “CMA?”  Who are the “many members of the community” who, they say, are concerned about the absence of Tony Campolo?  And finally why does OGU think it should concern itself with the CMA programming?

This letter should have been rejected by the Coaster because it accuses the CMA of hypocrisy  and motives that include “not wanting speakers who preach an accepting message of love and diversity,”  This  bomb-throwing is intolerant and unfair.

And why doesn’t the OGU air out its issues privately in the Grove instead of blaring them out-loud in the Coaster, where most of the readers could care less about this topic?

This letter is  a disrespectful public declaration of war by OGU at a time when factions in the Grove need to  work together for the common good.

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger

 

CANADIAN BRASS   “Bring a Torch Jeanette, Isabella.”

 

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Inside the Great Auditorium, June, 2007. This image appears in Bell, Bell and Dufresne's definitive history of the GA. By Paul Goldfinger © Blogfinger.net

Inside the Great Auditorium, June, 2007. This image appears in Bell, Bell and Dufresne’s definitive history of the GA. By Paul Goldfinger © Blogfinger.net

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger:

It turns out that Tony Campolo is a well known Baptist Evangelical preacher.   He has been to the GA many times in the past and has a reputation for being a very entertaining speaker.

In recent times, he has caused some controversy because of his opinions about gays and about gay marriage. According to OGU, he is an “activist” who has “publicly expressed his support for the inclusion of same-sex couples in the church. ”

According to OGU, he has said, “I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the church.”

Rev. Tony Campolo. Internet photo.

Rev. Tony Campolo. Internet photo.

Ordinarily Blogfinger would take no interest in the GA Sunday sermons, except this time a local organization, Ocean Grove United, has called for its members and friends to “welcome” Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo when he comes here Sunday to be the guest speaker.

Is this the first time that an organization other than the CMA has formally planned to “welcome” a speaker at the Sunday sermons?

But what interests us the most at Blogfinger is that OGU, in a follow-up email, has not only repeated its notice to supporters to “make every effort to attend” on Sunday, but now they say that Rev. Campolo “has received a great deal of flack for supporting the lgbt community, and those who disagree with him will not turn out for his program. It is extremely important for the CMA to see that Ministers who preach love will pack the house. Please tell friends and neighbors as well.”

Is that true that only Campolo’s supporters plan to show up?

In addition OGU asks its supporters to “gather outside the auditorium at 9:30” The service begins at 10:30 am.

So, without making any judgments, I have to say that this sounds like a political demonstration/message and thus meets our criteria as news. Even if a group gathers one hour before the event, and even if there are no signs or chants, their very presence will carry a powerful message as described above,

This is not the first time that a situation like this has occurred in the Grove, and this conflict will affect the entire town in one way or another. No matter how Sunday morning unfolds, Blogfinger will report on it.  Those of you who attend can email us with your views or you can comment under this post.

 

THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR WITH THE PHILADELPHIA BRASS ENSEMBLE:   “Abide With Me; ‘Tis Eventide.”

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Ocean Grove, New Jersey.  Paul Goldfinger photograph.  Blogfinger.net © Undated

Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Paul Goldfinger photograph. Blogfinger.net © Undated

By Paul Goldfinger,  Editor @Blogfinger.

Ocean Grove United foolishly bowed out of the ceremonies in Auditorium Square Park today. The event was to thank everyone who participated in the Together Campaign. The word Together in the title was chosen for a reason—–all components of the Ocean Grove community joined together to work towards a complete Sandy recovery, and that included the OGU membership and leadership.

Now, because one man said certain things in a religious service seven days ago, this group was willing to cast aside a relationship that has been three years in the making. Why is that a good idea? Do you OGU members really want to divorce yourselves from your town over this? Do you really believe that Ocean Grove is a place that is anti-gay?   Is that your message to a town that has embraced the gay community?

I know more gay people in this town than I ever knew in my entire life. I have learned so much about that community and I am happy to be in a place that is exemplary in its tolerance.

OGU members: How about finding a different way to deal with the current situation, one that will continue to bring everyone together and to focus on what’s right and good in this very special town.

CHRIS MARTIN   “Us Against the World.”

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Chavurah (Jewish fellowship) meeting today in Ocean Grove,  NJ.  10/6/13 Blogfinger photo

Chavurah (Jewish fellowship) meeting today in Ocean Grove, NJ. 10/6/13 Blogfinger photo

By Paul Goldfinger, Editor @Blogfinger (reprinted and updated from the 2011 Blogfinger article )

October, 2013. Unlike most towns, Ocean Grove has been self conscious about diversity ever since it was founded. It all stems from the unusual design of how the town was organized at its inception, and then what happened subsequently, and especially over 100 years later, when the governance of Ocean Grove ran afoul of the Constitution.

In 1870, the Camp Meeting Association received a charter from the New Jersey Legislature which allowed a religious organization, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, to govern the town, backed up by lawful ordinances, many of which were based on religious rules (“blue laws”), and enforced by their own police department and court. This helped keep the town decidedly not diverse.

But it wasn’t long after the founding that people began to move into the Grove who were different from the homogenous group that comprised the earliest settlers. Diversity can be about religion, race, gender, age, etc, but, at first, religion was front and center. Initially it was the Methodists, but later other Protestant denominations came and then Roman Catholics. In recent years, the town has become quite diverse in many ways, as it has gained in popularity among a variety of groups who are here, not because of the Camp Meeting programs, but because the town is attractive to them for a multiplicity of reasons, usually secular.

It is hard to get clear data on demographics in the Grove. It has been my observation that they have been changing in the last 10 years, especially in relation to socioeconomic status. The town is 91% white and holding. African Americans are about 5%. There is no recent data about religions, but nearly 50% were Roman Catholic in 2000. About 60% of the population are over the age of 45, and most households consist of individuals. About 55% are females. The median income has gone up by 19% when 2010 is compared to 2000, but this is about average in New Jersey.

Link to article in Blogfinger about the population drop documented in the 2010 census: population drop in OG

In 2007 one of the minority groups in town formed an organization, Ocean Grove United, which is dedicated to representing the concerns of gays and others who want to see Ocean Grove be successful as a place which celebrates diversity, neighborliness and fairness. OGU has, in the last two years, become more involved in civic activities in town and has been prominently active in post-Sandy fund raising efforts. Next month they will sponsor a buffet lunch to benefit the St. Paul’s food bank.

Also in 2007, another minority group formed an organization: A Jewish Chavurah (i.e. fellowship) came together to share religious and cultural interests for the growing Jewish presence in the Grove. A few Jews from nearby shore towns have also participated. The group is fairly informal and meets in homes around town, often in relation to religious holidays.

Jews settled in Monmouth County in the 18th Century. Bradley Beach (aka “Bagel Beach”) and Asbury Park later became resorts that attracted large numbers of Jews. Ocean Grove did not allow Jewish homeowners at first, but eventually some moved here. There is no data about this, but the late former Neptune mayor Joseph Krimko, who was Jewish, owned a home here since the 1970’s, when he was hired by the Camp Meeting to be a policeman. He told us that there were few Jews here back then. When I first met him in 1998, he thought you would have trouble forming a minion (10 men for a religious service) Two Ocean Grove historians told me that there were Jewish Grovers going way back, but that they were few in number. One even told me that there was a rabbi living in a tent. We have no confirmatory evidence for that assertion.

The most recent meeting of the OG Chavurah was held in the Ocean Pathway home of Dr. Mary Lou Armiger and Mr. Norm Goldman. Glen Goldman, their 25 year old son, related his adventures studying comparative religions and working with aid organizations during this past year in India and Israel. Glen dug into Jewish studies in Jerusalem at a Yeshiva (religious school). Now he’s back wearing a soccer jersey from the Jerusalem Beitar team, and he hung some Buddhist prayer flags on their front porch.

The OG Chavurah and the OGU are examples of how a person in a small town might still need to connect to their own group, so perhaps we will see some other minority organizations form in Ocean Grove.

At Blogfinger we would like to hear from other demographic groups or individuals in town who might want to share their experiences as a minority living in Ocean Grove.

JAY BLACK (of Jay and the American’s fame) recorded this song in Yiddish and English in memory of the Holocaust. The YouTube video is illustrated with paintings by Marc Chagall.

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CMA Director of Operations Bill Bailey shows photos of storm damage. Ralph delCampo (left" and Dale Whilden look on. Photos by Mary Walton

Camp Meeting Director of Operations Bill Bailey shows photos of storm damage. Ralph delCampo (left) and Dale Whilden look on. Photos by Mary Walton (Left click to see the photos enlarged)

By Charles Layton

A new spirit of good will and cooperation blossomed on Tuesday night, when leaders of the Camp Meeting Association and all of Ocean Grove’s major civic groups met to discuss storm recovery.

It falls to the Camp Meeting, as owner of the beach, to raise money and plan and execute the work of repairing the boardwalk and beach facilities.

However, others have a major stake, and up to now some of them had felt isolated, uninformed and frustrated. Merchants had complained because neighboring towns seemed to be moving ahead with rebuilding plans much faster than Ocean Grove. Other local groups said they wanted to help raise money for the beach and boardwalk, but their members hesitated for fear that donations for storm relief would be commingled with the Camp Meeting’s other funds and activities.

Camp Meeting officials organized Tuesday night’s meeting with those concerns fully in mind. “We’re all in the boat together and we all need to row in the same direction,” said Ralph delCampo, the Camp Meeting’s interim administrator. He and Camp Meeting president Dale Whilden pledged to keep everyone fully informed going forward. They also asked for everyone’s input, including their criticisms. But no criticisms were voiced on Tuesday night.

Those present included leaders of the Home Owners Association, the Historical Society, Ocean Grove United, the Fishing Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Grove Beautification Project.

In laying out their plans for this year’s fund-raising campaign, DelCampo and other Camp Meeting officials stressed again and again that funds for the boardwalk and beachfront will be “totally separated” from all other funds. (Contributors can write “Boardwalk & Beach Front” in the memo field of their checks to have the donations routed to that separate account.)

The Camp Meeting officials said the entire beach will be open by Memorial Day and that most of the boardwalk will be operational, as will the beach office, bathrooms and changing rooms. And they discussed engineering issues in considerable detail. Bill Bailey, the Camp Meeting’s director of operations, used aerial photos of the beachfront to explain how different types of dune structures, bulkheads and barriers had functioned during Hurricane Sandy, and which of those might best prevent damage in future storms.

At the end of the meeting, Rich Lepore of the Chamber of Commerce expressed optimism about the summer season. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can do to drive home the fact that Ocean Grove is open,” he said.

Gail Shaffer of the Historical Society suggested that all of the organizations present should state on their websites that the OG beach will be open this summer. Others talked about plans to help with fund raising. Connie Ogden of OG Beautification said “We intend to go full blast” in providing decorative plantings along the boardwalk and elsewhere. Luisa Paster of Ocean Grove United suggested sending news releases to The Coaster on a regular basis.

Camp Meeting development officer Karen Adams began the meeting with an explanation of this year’s fund-raising campaign. She said the Camp Meeting normally needs to raise about $1 million, but this year the need is much greater. The cost of fixing the boardwalk and beachfront is estimated at $3 million, she said. Assuming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides 75 percent of that amount, the Camp Meeting would need to raise another $750,000. Thornley Chapel is also in need of $500,000 worth of renovation (not related to the hurricane), and $100,000 must be raised for repairs to the storm-damaged auditorium roof. Insurance will cover the rest of the auditorium costs.

Karen Adams (center) describes the fund-raising campaign. Listening are Carol Woidt (left) of OG Beautification and Mary Ellen Tellefsen of the Chamber of Commerce.

Karen Adams (center) describes the fund-raising campaign. Listening are Carol Woidt (left) of OG Beautification and Mary Ellen Tellefsen of the Chamber of Commerce.

Ordinarily, the Camp Meeting would simply put donations for all those projects into a single fund. However, Whilden said, “We fully realize that probably the majority of the community is primarily interested in the boardwalk,” and therefore “there will be no commingling of funds. They’re completely different funds.”

Whilden said the Camp Meeting has already raised $190,000.

Bailey led a technical discussion of beach barriers and dunes. He said the Camp Meeting believes the reason the portion of the boardwalk from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue held up so well was because the dunes along that stretch of beach were constructed on top of a rubble wall buried beneath the sand. This rubble wall had been installed following a 1953 nor’easter. It has performed so well that the Camp Meeting would like to use that same type of structure along the entire length of the beach. However, “ultimately, it’s going to be all about the money,” Bailey said, “and those rubble walls are expensive.”

The Camp Meeting also discovered that a sheet steel bulkhead in front of the boardwalk at the south end had provided good protection there. Engineers have been helping the Camp Meeting study these and other options for rebuilding.

Bailey said the reason Ocean Grove did not announce its rebuilding plans as quickly as other towns was that the Camp Meeting wanted to first determine which structures will best prevent damage in future storms. “We’ve got to get this right,” he said. “We’re investing a lot of money. We’ve got to study it.”

DelCampo said Ocean Grove needs to avoid what happened in Spring Lake, where the boardwalk was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, the town rebuilt it immediately, and then it was destroyed again just one year later by Hurricane Sandy.

According to Bailey, here is what visitors to Ocean Grove can expect by Memorial Day:

  • The beach will be open in its entirety.
  • The south end boardwalk – from the beach office to Bradley Beach — will be restored.
  • From just north of the beach office to just north of McClintock Street the boardwalk will not be in place, but beach access points will be provided.
  • From the pavilion to the north end the boardwalk will be in place.

Still unanswered is the question of access to Asbury Park. As a temporary fix. there may just be an asphalt pathway.

Also, before summer, the Camp Meeting will send volunteer rescue divers out to retrieve submerged offshore debris.

The Camp Meeting officials said they still had no word as to whether FEMA will agree to provide any funds for restoring the boardwalk. Neither do they know when FEMA might announce that decision. For background on that, see this previous story.

Bailey uses aerial photos to illustrate the performance of a boardwalk bulkhead

Bailey points to an aerial photo showing how the beachfront looked before the storm

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As planks are removed from the damaged boardwalk, they are saved in piles for possible reuse. Photo by Mary Walton

As planks are removed from the damaged boardwalk, they are being saved and evaluated for possible reuse. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton

The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association estimates that it will cost roughly $3 million to restore the boardwalk and pier damaged by Hurricane Sandy, interim administrator Ralph delCampo said Tuesday.

The cost for the pier alone is estimated at $500,000 to $750,000. In addition, the insurance policy which covers the damaged roof of the Great Auditorium, now under repair, has a $100,000 deductible.

DelCampo emphasized that the estimates are preliminary, given many questions about how to proceed. “We want to enhance the kind of construction,” he said. “We do not simply want to replace the boardwalk. What did we learn from other towns?”

One thing they learned is not to follow the example of Spring Lake, he said. After last year’s Hurricane Irene demolished the boardwalk there, the town rebuilt it in nearly identical fashion, only to lose it to Sandy.

In fact, planks in the heavily damaged section of the Ocean Grove boardwalk between the south side of the pavilion and the beach office were recently replaced at a cost approaching $300,000. “All of that money just went to the ocean,” delCampo said. That section, known as the Middle Beach, now must be completely rebuilt.

In probing why the pavilion itself and the boardwalk north of Seaview Avenue survived almost intact, initial credit went to the dunes. No one is discounting their importance, but, in addition, the Camp Meeting discovered that a hidden bulwark of massive boulders and rubble lies beneath them. “We believe that’s what saved the boardwalk and dunes,” delCampo said.

Dale Whilden, president of the board of trustees, who joined delCampo in a conference call with Blogfinger, said the boulder wall was built in 1953 following a major storm. Post Sandy, he discovered drawings and documentation in his files. “I had forgotten,” he said. “A couple of trustees remembered it vaguely.”

Under discussion now is extending that bulwark south in tandem with new dunes. DelCampo said the Camp Meeting is working with consulting engineer Peter Avakian and with local contractors in designing a plan. At present, the Middle Beach boardwalk is being systematically dismantled and inspected for structural integrity, a process that will take about three months. “We will remove joists and planks and even some of the pilings and save them to be reused,” delCampo said.

At the same time, he said. the Camp Meeting has hired a consultant “to help us work through applications.” Topping the list of potential funders is the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA will pay 75 percent of the cost of approved projects and up to 100 percent under certain circumstances. Gov. Christie has asked for the higher amount.

The Camp Meeting is also seeking private contributions from people in the community. delCampo said he was intrigued by Belmar’s “Buy a Board” campaign, which allows contributors to pay from $25 to $5,000 for individual planks, with their name and board level displayed at beach entrances.

The topic of private donations came up at meetings the Camp Meeting held last week with representatives of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association and with Ocean Grove United. Both groups praised the meetings as positive but expressed reservations about a glossy fund-raising flyer titled “Let’s Rebuild” mailed to Ocean Grovers in late November. It stipulated that checks should be made payable to OGCMA “with ‘Now & Forever’ in the memo line.”

Home Owners president Ann Horan said her understanding is that the Camp Meeting’s “Now & Forever” fund is money that “they could take and use it for whatever they want. We think they should make it more specific.”

OGU raised a similer objection. The organization has a history of friction with the Camp Meeting, most recently over the speaking engagement of actor Kirk Cameron last summer for a Sunday worship service after Cameron had made anti-gay remarks in a television interview. Last week’s meeting between OGU and the Camp Meeting fulfilled a Camp Meeting pledge to improve communication between the two groups.

The flyer was a major topic at the meeting. “People are not comfortable giving to a general fund,” said OGU co-chair Harriet Bernstein. “They would certainly be willing to give to an earmarked fund with some accountability.” She and co-chair Luisa Paster told the Camp Meeting officials, “Everyone wants to help, but they want it dedicated to the replenishment of the beach and the boardwalk.”

Bernstein and Paster suggested that the Camp Meeting consider holding a fundraiser and also forming a coalition of community organizations to drum up financial support for rebuilding.

The Camp Meeting also met with board members of the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce, but the “Now & Forever” issue did not come up at that meeting, said Chamber president Rich Lepore, owner of Smuggler’s Cove on Main Avenue. “I’ve heard it more from customers,” he said. “They want to give but they don’t quite know how.”

Whilden explained that the press of time was why people were asked to donate to a general fund rather than one earmarked for rebuilding. At the time the fund-raising flyer was sent out, he said, “We were planning an immediate response. We didn’t have a strong idea of where the money ought to go. We wanted flexibility to put donated funds where they needed to be.” He said that if donors specify a preference in the “For” line of their checks, such as “boardwalk” or “pier,” or specify the intended use in a letter, the Camp Meeting is legally obligated to use the money for that purpose.

Meanwhile, delCampo said, the Camp Meeting development committee is meeting Thursday and will be coming up with an alternative “for those who don’t want to give more broadly.” In addition to donations for beachfront damage, he added a plea for funds to help pay for the auditorium repair. “We cannot forget the auditorium. It is a central focus of the community as well,” he said.

 

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By Charles Layton

The state’s Division on Civil Rights issued its final conclusion Tuesday in the Ocean Grove boardwalk pavilion case.

As had been expected, the agency’s director, Craig Sashihara, accepted without modification a January ruling by a state administrative law judge that the Camp Meeting Association discriminated unlawfully in denying an Ocean Grove couple permission for a same-sex civil ceremony at the pavilion.

Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster. Photo by Paul Goldfinger

The case of Harriet Bernstein and Luisa Paster attracted national attention over the conflict it presented between gay civil rights and religious beliefs espoused by the Camp Meeting. It can also be viewed as a socially transforming event in the recent history of Ocean Grove.

The issue awakened a sense of unity and activism on the part of what had been a sizable but until then rather quiescent local gay community. It sparked heated debate among members of the Home Owners Association. It brought into being Ocean Grove United, a local civil rights group. It is the reason one sees blue and yellow equality banners on numerous houses around town.

However, it never became a landmark Constitutional case, although at one point the Camp Meeting attempted, unsuccessfully, to take the matter into federal court. Instead, the issue remained within the domain of the state Division on Civil Rights after Bernstein and Paster filed a complaint with that agency in 2007.

The Camp Meeting, which owns the boardwalk and all its accoutrements, had a history of renting out the open-air, wood-framed pavilion for community events, including weddings. But when Bernstein and Paster applied for permission to hold their civil ceremony there in 2007, the Camp Meeting refused on religious grounds.

The case went from the Civil Rights Division to an administrative law judge, who concluded that the Camp Meeting had violated the state’s law against discrimination. The Civil Rights Division could then have adopted, modified or rejected that decision, but on Tuesday it upheld it.

Sashihara, in his opinion, wrote that the boardwalk pavilion was a public accommodation because the public had been invited to use it and the pavilion received direct tax support from the government — a tax exemption under the state’s Green Acres program. A condition of the tax exemption was that the property be open for public use by all “on an equal basis.” Sashihara’s reasoning echoed the earlier findings of the administrative law judge.

“We are thrilled,” Bernstein said. “They have lost on every level.”

The decision includes no award of damages to the plaintiffs, nor did Bernstein and Paster request any. In fact, as applied to them personally, the case is moot. Six months after filing their complaint, they conducted their civil ceremony on the fishing pier.

Tuesday’s decision does indeed bring this long, highly-emotional case to a close so far as the Civil Rights Division is concerned. However, under the law, the Camp Meeting could still choose to take an appeal to the state Superior Court, Appellate Division. Court rules require that such an appeal must be filed within 45 days from the date of the decision.

The Camp Meeting had no immediate comment.

UPDATE: The Camp Meeting issued a statement on Friday, October 26, saying its board of trustees would schedule a meeting to decide whether to appeal. For that, go here.

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By Mary Walton

As the 2012 Labor Day weekend drew to a close under cloudy skies, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association reported a somewhat gloomy financial picture at its traditional season’s end review.

Operating income of $3,164,000 fell $39,000 short of operating expenses. Contributions to the choir festival, Camp Meeting week and other special events were down by $24,500 over last year. And ticket sales to the Saturday night entertainment programs experienced an especially severe drop. They totaled 20,347, compared to 27,588 in 2011, a 26 percent decline that resulted in the lowest profit margin in eleven years.

Dr. Dale Whilden, CMA president, attributed the fall off in Saturday night attendance to competition from new entertainment outlets in the surrounding area, particularly Asbury Park. The loss of revenues when Johnny Mathis cancelled his August 11 appearance was another factor. Whilden added, “And the economy has got to be a part of this.”

On the bright side, as of Aug. 20 beach revenues had outpaced expenses $928,000 to $760,000. Beach profits, however, cannot be used to defray operating losses.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was held this year in the Youth Temple rather than its customary venue, the Bishop Janes Tabernacle. In another change from past years, the meeting was closed to the media.

“This meeting is targeted for supporters,” Ralph del Campo, interim chief operating officer, told this Blogfinger reporter before the meeting began. I was invited to sit in, but told not to report. He explained that people were under the false impression that the CMA was a public entity, which has not been the case since it was a municipality running Ocean Grove, a role now occupied by Neptune Township. He noted that as a religious organization the CMA is not obligated to make its sessions public. There was no explanation for why the change was suddenly enacted. In fact, Blogfinger has covered the meeting in past years. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” Whilden chimed in.

The change in policy was not announced during the meeting, and Bonnie Graham, a reporter for the Coaster, took notes throughout. Graham was unaware of the no-reporting rule until I made an issue of it during the questions and comments session that concluded the meeting. I asked that the CMA reconsider its policy in the interest of openness. Graham also objected to the rule against media reporting, and afterward said she was shocked and mystified. Trustees apparently were not aware of the decision either. “What’s that all about?” one asked me.

On another subject, Joan Caputo spoke for Ocean Grove United, a gay advocacy organization that has often been at odds with the CMA, most recently over the appearance of actor and evangelist Kirk Cameron, the author of harsh anti-gay remarks. After an OGU protest, Whilden and other CMA officials met with a group from the organization to hear their concerns. Caputo thanked them for having “in many ways opened their hearts and taken the time to meet with us, to listen and to share. Let the dialogue continue.” She made her remarks available to Blogfinger.

CMA Trustee Douglas E. Arpert responded to a questioner who asked the status of the North End development of condos, homes and a hotel. The CMA and a company called WAVE (Wesley Atlantic Village Enterprises) are co-developers. Arpert told Blogfinger they hope to conclude a redevelopment agreement with Neptune Township by the end of the year and to break ground in 2013.

After the meeting Del Campo and Whilden sat down with me to review the information that had been presented at the meeting, so that it could be included in this article.

In addition to financial news, they said that the search for a chief operating officer is nearing its conclusion. After an initial round of searching last year failed to produce a suitable candidate, the search was widened in the spring. The search committee received more than 30 resumes, and has narrowed the field to three, all men. The committee will conduct interviews in September and expects to name the new officer by year’s end.

In other statistics of interest, the most popular speakers this summer were Ravi Zakarias, who drew 2,900 Sunday morning worshippers this past Sunday, followed by Kirk Cameron, 2,300, and Tony Campolo, 2,058.

Neil Sedaka attracted the largest Saturday night crowd, 2,722, followed by Diana Krall, 2,470, and Michael W. Smith, 2,316.

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By Charles Layton

Equality flag, symbol of Human Rights Campaign. Photo by Charles Layton

At least three equality flags were stolen from homes in Ocean Grove over the weekend.

A man named John, who lives on New York Avenue, said he and his daughter went out to dinner on Saturday night, and when they got home he noticed that his flag had been ripped off. “They literally ripped it off the side of the house with such force that the metal of the flag holder was broken in half.”

He said the next day, when he called the police, a neighbor said, “Oh my gosh, mine is missing too.”

He figures the thefts occurred between 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday.

Irene, who lives on the western end of Heck Avenue, said she only noticed the theft of her flag, along with its pole, on Sunday, while looking at photographs. She said she had taken a photo of her granddaughter’s lemonade stand on Saturday and the flag was in the picture. Then she took a photo of a flower in front of her house on Sunday and saw that the flag was missing. “So I’m pretty sure it happened Saturday night,” she said.

Both Irene and John said that when they reported the thefts the police asked questions that led them to think the police were trying to establish whether or not the thefts could be classified as hate crimes. The blue and yellow flags are the symbol of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the country’s largest civil rights organization for gay equality.

Irene said she was particularly disturbed because the thief had to unlatch her gate and come into the yard, “and he came right up to my front steps and took it.”

“And my dog didn’t bark, which I’m not too thrilled about either,” she added.

After hearing of these three thefts, Harriet Bernstein, co-chair of Ocean Grove United, sent out emails asking whether others may have had their flags stolen. If so, she was urging that they report the thefts to the Neptune police.

“A number of people have had flags stolen in the past,” Bernstein said, “but it hasn’t happened in a few years.”

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