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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

NY - Jews go to court to have Eiruv removed

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man stands on a ladder and hangs "Eruv"

Tensions ran high in Westhampton Beach on Sunday as more than 300 angry residents gathered inside a local restaurant to express their opposition to a proposed Jewish religious boundary that, they say, will forever alter their quality of life in the village.

And this time those vehemently opposed to the mostly invisible boundary, called an eruv, which would encompass most of Westhampton Beach and parts of Quogue Village and the hamlets of Quiogue and Westhampton, want to share their concerns with the judge who will eventually rule on a lawsuit that will decide the fate of the boundary.

Specifically, members of the executive board of the group Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv (JPOE), which hosted Sunday’s meeting at Starr Boggs in the village, said they directed their attorneys last month to file a brief for intervention in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip. If their request is approved, group members will be allowed to testify before Judge Leonard D. Wexler and offer their opinions about the need for an eruv and the lawsuit filed in January by the East End Eruv Association (EEEA)—the group that is now pushing for the religious boundary’s creation. The EEEA filed suit after both villages and the town blocked the eruv’s establishment.

In July, JPOE’s executive board hired Sinnreich, Kosakoff & Messina LLP of Central Islip to represent the interests of its membership in the ongoing litigation. On Sunday, JPOE Chairman Arnold Sheiffer, who has a home in Westhampton Beach, told attendees that the group has decided to enter the legal fray after hearing that those representing the EEEA allegedly told the court that there was no community opposition to the proposed boundary.

“The proposal for the eruv is now in the hands of the lawyers and the courts,” said Mr. Sheiffer, noting that his group was originally advised to stay out of the litigation.

A decision on the EEEA’s request for a preliminary injunction—a decision that could allow the group to establish a temporary boundary until the courts can rule on the lawsuit—still has not been handed down, though a ruling has been expected for the past several weeks.

On Sunday, group members expressed their frustration over the proposed boundary, the origins of which date back to 2008.

“The eruv has a life of its own,” said Westhampton Beach resident Myrna Tarnover, a member of JPOE’s executive board. “Don’t let this happen to our beloved Westhampton Beach.”

Ms. Tarnover explained that she grew up in Lawrence, a community that she said was changed forever when an eruv was established and scores of Orthodox Jews “came in droves” to the area. She noted that many refused to pay school taxes because their children attended religious educational institutions.

Sunday’s gathering was the fourth hosted by JPOE and aimed at educating the public about recent efforts to establish the boundary. If approved, wooden markers known as lechis would be installed on utility poles to mark the eruv’s boundaries; if created, Orthodox Jews will be allowed to perform certain activities, such as pushing strollers and wheelchairs, that would normally be prohibited on the Sabbath, their holy day.

Attendees expressed a host of concerns during Sunday’s hour-long meeting, peppering members of the group’s executive board with questions. One asked if local shopkeepers who are opposed to the eruv have faced any pressure from proponents. Mr. Sheiffer said that while some store owners were being pressured to close early on the Sabbath earlier during the debate, less has been heard about that recently.

Others reiterated their belief that Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, is behind the push for the boundary even though the EEEA is now seeking its creation. Audience members said they believe the rabbi wants the eruv in order to boost his synagogue’s membership. The synagogue applied to the Westhampton Beach Village Board in 2008, seeking its permission to create an eruv, but later withdrew the request following a large public outcry.

“We’re not anti-Semitic,” said Hal Kahn, a member of JPOE’s executive board. “We are against one man with a phony reason for trying to change the secular nature of our village for his own financial well-being.”

Rabbi Schneier did not return a call this week seeking comment and has not responded to repeated requests to be interviewed about the eruv.

When asked about Mr. Schneier’s role in the request, Robert Sugarman, an attorney with Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP in Manhattan, the firm that is representing the EEEA, said: “I will not dignify that with a response.”
While discussing strategies in which to block the eruv on Sunday, one angered resident yelled: “Get rid of the rabbi!”

Other JPOE members said the problem is that Mr. Schneier makes all of the synagogue’s financial decisions unlike with other temples in which members are involved in those discussions. And others, including Mr. Sheiffer, said another strategy to undermine the push for the eruv is to try to encourage members of the Westhampton Beach synagogue to defect. “If we can empty the temple, all this will end,” Mr. Sheiffer said.

Mr. Sheiffer kicked off Sunday’s meeting by offering a timeline of the contentious issue, which has elicited passionate debate since Mr. Schneier first applied to Westhampton Beach Village in 2008. He later withdrew his application and, last year, the EEEA picked up the baton.

The group secured letters from both Verizon and LIPA, which own the utility poles, granting them permission to install the lechis but were blocked by village and town officials from proceeding. Attorneys representing Westhampton Beach, Quogue and Southampton Town have previously stated that the lechis would violate their

respective sign ordinances.

In January, the EEEA sued the three municipalities, alleging that its request was denied because elected officials are discriminating against Jewish people. That litigation is still pending. In April, the group filed its request seeking the preliminary injunction to establish the temporary eruv.

“The judge is now considering it and we are awaiting his decision,” Mr. Sugarman said about the preliminary injunction.

Meanwhile, Estelle Lubliner of Westhampton Beach, one of the founding members of the Hampton Synagogue, is awaiting her day in court. Ms.

Lubliner, who attended Sunday’s meeting and is passionately opposed to the eruv, said she objects to the fact that her name was brought up in the ongoing court proceedings. She noted that she was never given an opportunity to respond.

Donations were also requested of the JPOE membership on Sunday. Mr. Sheiffer said the group needs to raise approximately $50,000 to cover its legal costs.

“We are in an uphill legal fight, but we can do it,” he said. “We want to preserve the secular culture in the community where we reside."

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