Abe Muller is the kind of guy that makes up the backbone of a town.
He owns a small business, is part of the volunteer ambulance corps and is a member of a civic council that meets regularly.
All in all, a very typical, small-town American guy.
“This is what people don’t understand about us,” said Muller, one the approximately 70,000 Haredi or ultra-Orthodox Jews living in Lakewood. “We’re very American in that way. We volunteer. We love our community and we’re very involved in our community, like everyone else.”
The news out of Lakewood in the past several months has portrayed certain members of the town’s Orthodox community has takers, not givers.
A public airing of the high cost of private school busing and private special education for Orthodox Jewish children was followed by the arrest of 26 people charged with welfare fraud. The stories fueled perceptions that the entire Orthodox community is self-serving and insulated.
But, as anyone following this series of columns on Lakewood has read before, perception and reality are like fifth cousins. Related, but barely.
One of the misconceptions in Lakewood is about the Orthodox-run first aid squad called “Hatzolah.”
“People think we’re only for ourselves,” said Muller, one of three captains who run the 90-person squad. “But we go out for everybody. If you call us, we come.”
“Hatzolah” is emblazoned on its 12 state-of-the art emergency vehicles, all paid by donations from the community.
Also spelled Hatzalah, the name means rescue or relief in Hebrew and there are Orthodox ambulance services in Haredi communities across New Jersey.
The Jersey Shore Hatzolah serves the Deal and Long Branch area. There are Hatzolah ambulance corps in Elizabeth and Union City, one that serves Passaic and Clifton, and one for Highland Park and Edison.
But Lakewood was the first and is the largest. The Hatzolah began in 1981 with a handful of volunteers and has grown along with the…