Conflicts continue to brew between two factions in the Village of Kiryas Joel
After collecting grievances for years, Kiryas Joel dissidents say the conflict that drove them to federal court on Monday to seek a drastic remedy was the closure of a synagogue in which one of their groups had prayed for years.
After losing their fight in state court to keep open their shul, and then failing to get Kiryas Joel's authorities to let them reopen it, the dissidents added that chain of events to a court complaint alleging pervasive discrimination against them by the village's ruling faction — and asking that the municipality be dissolved after 34 years in existence.
As longtime dissident Joseph Waldman explained at a news conference announcing the lawsuit Monday, people in the minority faction were willing to be passed over for municipal jobs and to be taxed differently, but they couldn't accept the closure of a synagogue.
"One thing that every Jew will give his life for is to have a place to do his prayers," Waldman said.
Dispute began with apartment
Village leaders responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday with a statement saying "a small group of discontented persons" was using the case to try to undo the will of voters, since their political candidates have lost in municipal elections.
The leaders claim the case has "no merit."
"The discontents filed a similar lawsuit some dozen years ago," the statement reads. "That lawsuit was dismissed, and the rejection upheld by the federal Second Court of Appeals."
Kiryas Joel leaders also boasted of the wide-ranging municipal services they provide for "over 21,000 souls" and denied any discrimination in delivering them.
"The services-oriented policies of the elected government have benefitted all residents of the Village and indeed have benefitted the greater community," they wrote.
The synagogue dispute that motivated the new lawsuit involves a former apartment built in the 1970s for Satmar founder Joel Teitelbaum on the back of the building where Kiryas Joel's main congregation worships.
A dissident group later inherited the space from Teitelbaum's widow and converted it into a house of prayer.
The group, known as Congregation Bais Yoel Ohel Feige, vacated the building under court order in December 2009, having been told it needed approval for the new use.
The group has since sought permission to reopen the synagogue, without success.
Similarities to previous case
A series of skirmishes took place before and after the dissidents left their shul.
In October 2009, they stopped a construction vehicle sent by the majority faction as it ripped out a fence around the shul. But demolition resumed the following June, when two excavators ripped up a stone walkway, buried septic tank, fence and curb.
That dispute and the lawsuit are reminiscent of a battle Waldman and his fellow dissidents waged in the 1990s over another synagogue.
That conflict also snowballed into a federal civil-rights case — brought by Sussman — that ended in 1997 with the shul staying open and the village agreeing to pay $300,000.
Sussman made an analogy to that earlier case during Monday's news conference, saying that dissidents had once again turned to a higher venue to redress their grievances.
"The state courts wouldn't hear about it," he said. "But the federal courts will."