16 August 2008
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Charges of anti-Semitism are swirling in a tiny seaside village in the Hamptons after a contentious community meeting at a local synagogue and the departure of a former deputy mayor concerned over rising anti-Jewish sentiment.
The village, Westhampton Beach, N.Y....
Has been roiled by controversy since the announcement earlier this year that a local synagogue planned to erect an eruv, a symbolic marker that allows observant Jews to perform certain tasks normally forbidden on the Sabbath, such as carrying or pushing a stroller.
Marc Schneier, rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue, temporarily withdrew his application for an eruv in May amid fierce community opposition that some contend had a distinctly anti-Semitic undertone. Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and a leading figure in Jewish-Muslim and black-Jewish dialogue, called a meeting Wednesday to address community concerns over the eruv.
"It got very ugly," Schneier said. "It was a horrible display of intolerance and disrespect."
The building of eruvs, which generally entails affixing nearly invisible markers to telephone and utility poles to create virtual enclosures, has engendered fierce opposition in communities from New Jersey to London. Neighborhood opponents generally argue that the construction of the eruv will transform their neighborhood into an Orthodox Jewish enclave, ruining the community’s character and bringing down real estate values.
Eruv supporters hear echoes of anti-Semitism in such opposition.
Opponents of the eruv in Westhampton Beach have expressed fears that their community could turn into “another Lawrence,” a once diverse Long Island town now populated overwhelmingly by Orthodox Jews.
About 500 mostly non-Jewish residents turned up for the meeting Wednesday at Schneier's synagogue. According to the rabbi, one participant called him "slime." Another said eruvs belong only in ghettos and that Orthodox Jews shouldn't live in the community. Schneier was told to go back where he came from.
"I think we have seen the ugly head of anti-Semitism rise in this village," Schneier said.
The Wednesday meeting came just as a local newspaper reported that Tim Laube, a former deputy mayor and supporter of the eruv, was planning to leave the community because of rising anti-Semitism.
“I received a number of threatening phone calls,” Laube told The Southampton Press, referring to the dozen or so calls he received during a failed bid for the mayoralty in June. “Callers accused me of being ‘a Jew-lover,’ a ‘kike-lover.’ [They] said that I would ‘burn in hell,’ [and] that ‘my parents would be turning in their graves.’”
Laube, the child of a Jewish father and Catholic mother, grew up in Westhampton Beach.
“I love the community,” Laube told the newspaper. “But I can’t look myself in the mirror and feel this is where I want to stay the rest of my life. Things would have to change.”
Mayor Conrad Teller told The Southampton Press that opponents of the eruv are mostly “level-headed, reasonable people” motivated not by bigotry, but because “they just don’t want an area declared an Orthodox Jewish enclave.”
But Schneier sees the controversy as a civil rights issue, and so does the governor of New York, David Paterson, who visited the synagogue two weeks ago and expressed support for the project.
“I'm hoping we can bring tolerance, understanding and compassion to those who want to build an eruv,” Paterson said, according to news reports.
"This is no longer about the eruv," Schneier said. "All you had to do Wednesday night was substitute the word 'Jew' with 'black,' though Southerners would have chosen a different term. But that was the tone."
Open letter to the inhabitants of West Hamptonbeach, NY
Re: Today's article in JTA: "Eruv battle in Hamptons turns ugly".
On your web site where you describe your little community in glowing terms, you forgot to mention that individuals of the Jewish faith are not welcome, and that your town is predominantly anti-Semitic in character and xenophobic general. West Hamptonbeach is the last place on earth that I would recommend as a destination for travel, vacation, shopping, or any form of contact, business or otherwise.
If I were a part of your Jewish community, I would boycott all of your local businesses for starters and the battle over the Eruv would be settled in the courts of the State of New York, and in the Supreme Court if necessary.
Just who do you think you are anyhow? This is America! Worried about too many Jews moving to your precious little town are you? You might as well fly the nazi flag from the flagpole in front of your Village Hall.
It is interesting that links to the two articles concerning this issue that were on your own web site (Religiously symbolic fence sought for East End , and How first eruv on East End would work) are no longer viable.
The withdrawal of the application to the Village for the Eruv by Rabbi Schneier was something to be expected of sheep, bowing to the will of the wolves. It is unfortunate that within the Jewish Community, there are not a pack of Sheep Dogs, willing to challenge wolves who threaten the flock. Rabbi Schneier is one of the World's most respected and notable Rabbis and is known for his efforts to bring understanding and tolerance among diverse communities. He is not one to exacerbate an already volatile situation.
But rest assured, there are those who are more vocal and more active in the pursuit of Jewish rights and the safety of the Jewish people, and...We are watching the outcome of this situation with great interest.
I hope that you are taught a bitter lesson in the meaning of our Constitution and that it costs you dearly.
You may alsol write to the big shots in the Village of West Hamptonbeach, NY, at the following email addresses:
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