Mixed messages on the <EM>eruv</EM>

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mixed messages on the eruv

Even though the Hampton Synagogue's application to estab­lish an eruv chatzerot en­compassing a sizable chunk of "mainland" Westhampton Beach South of the Highway, has been on-hold for the past month, thanks to a full page advertisement in the current South­ampton Press Western Edition, it is again on full roil.

While only WCBS-TV covered it with a snide and superficial story a month ago, a number of others, from Newsday to Dan's to Jewish Week, are now all over it, with more to come.

"I've even been interviewed by Al Jazeera," said Richard Haefeli, who represents the Temple in their application before the Village.

Rabbi Marc Schneier's stated purpose in sus­pending the process, was....

"I shall use this summer to extend the hands of friendship across the faiths and educate all segments of the Westhampton Beach community to precisely what the eruv is, and what it is not and should not represent to its detractors."

While he was firming up his strategy, an ad hoc group calling themselves "Westhampton Beach¹ Alliance for the Separation of Church and State" has stolen a march on him with their full page adv., and the Rabbi's avowed task could now become that much harder.

Or not.

Initial feedback suggests that the Alliance's media campaign... more messages are planned according to the the adv.'s author, Craig Middleton... is not playing well² with a number of residents, so there could be a backlash.

The most interesting part here is how the cur­rent Village Board is positioned on the matter.

Trustees Joan Levan and Toni-Jo Birk, vying for "leadership status" on the issue since it was first formally presented to the Board, are tersely opposed, both voting "No" when Mayor Conrad Teller unexpectedly called the vote at the May 1st meeting.

Trustee Hank Tucker still seems open on the matter, voting against the Mayor's motion on procedural grounds, but past performance suggests that he will follow Mrs. Levan's lead.

That leaves the Mayor and Deputy Mayor James Kametler, both of whom were un­equiv­ocally in support of the eruv at that meeting, as confirmed by the video record.

But then at an Alliance meeting at Irene Bar­rett's Quiogue home, Mr. Kametler must have succeeded in convincing those assembled that he was actually against the eruv, because the bottom half of the advertisement³ was by de­fault, in support of his re-election.

In addition to raising alarums and scarums about an opponent of the Deputy Mayor, John Roland, so too was Mayor Teller's opponent, Tim Laube, tarred with the "a vote for either is a vote for the eruv" brush.

Which leads to the question of how the Alliance reconciles its hostility to Mr. Laube's candidacy with this message from Mayor Teller in Jewish Week:

"I have no objection if the public isn't 100 percent against it. I mean I work for the public, but right now I still don't see any major fault with it. I prob­ably won't get elected for saying that. I don't see any fault with it."

While there are signs of a certain amount of "wiggle room" in that statement, unless Mr. Kametler and Administration flunky Ralph Neubauer carried a private "I'm with you!" message from the Mayor to the Alliance, the group has caused itself significant credibility problems.

But in that same Jewish Week article is found crafty Con Teller's ultimate solution to whether or not the Synagogue gets its eruv in West­hamp­ton Beach:

"Teller didn't rule out placing the matter before the voters in the form of a referendum...."

With the guidance of the vox populi, it would absolve Village Government of responsibility for the decision, something the Administration could point to if legal action ensues.

It would also suit Jacqueline Sprotte, an early eruv questioner, who urged such an approach at the Village Board's April Work Session.

Which would leave the Synagogue and the Alliance battling it out for the voters' hearts and minds until a referendum would be held later this Summer.

  1. The actual membership of the Alliance seems to be less Westhampton Beach residents than non-residents or second home owners who vote elsewhere.
  2. But then, it is unknown how many new sup­porters have contacted co-chairs Middleton and Els Rentmeester, or their nut­burger as­sociate, Irene Barrett, who's been at the front of the anti-eruv charge from the jump.
  3. Since it is an overtly political advertisement, some are wondering if the Alliance had pre-registered as a Political Action Committee, as required by law, with the Suffolk County Board of Elections.


1. Morris Tuchman said...

Concerning the thought of a referendum on the eruv; if the Bill of Rights' constitutional right to the free excercise of religion is implicated in the Synagogue's Eruv application, we do not have referenda to vindicate those rights. We do not have a majority vote on whether Blacks can eat at the lunch counter. The Bill of Rights vindicates the rights of (even) the minority.

Thank you for your comments. As a matter of principle, I am in accord with them.
As I see it, the problem is now a political one… one that could have, should have, been avoided by the application of some common sense and a scosh more leadership. While Mrs. Sprotte thinks it appropriate for the Village Board to get a sense of the community, Mayor Teller is looking for a way to get his administration off the hook.
Another element of this is that, according to Hamptons Synagogue Executive Director Sam Nussbaum, the temple sought the municipality's "blessing" for the eruv as a matter of Jewish tradition rather than law or Constitutional Right. That in itself helped make this into an unfortunate controversy.

2. Morris Tuchman said...

Thanks for your response. The governmental denial of the "blessing" that you refer to, as noted by Village Attorney Bishop, likely implicates the "free excercise" guarantee of the constituition. As the controlling state appellate division decision noted, in the case that Mr. Bishop alluded to at a public hearing, "[the] free practice of one's religion is a right deeply cherished by the citizens of our State and Nation, and one that is zealously protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment." ( Matter of Martine S. v Anthony D., 120 Misc 2d 567, 568.) New York courts have repeatedly held that "by their very nature religious institutions are beneficial to the public welfare and consequently proposed religious uses should be accommodated."

3. Matlynn Carville said...

How does a "majority" voting for "Blackseating at a lunch counter" correlate to a discussion regarding the placement of religion symbols? Why not choose a nice analogy ripped from the headlines, such as religious intolerance and Palestinian-Israeli relations?
OR you could make it diplomatic and relevant… like the Muslim-Islamic-Judeo-Christian respect for the sacred holyland of Jerusalem -- as a way of opening ears and understanding.
This whole conversation makes me ecstatic to be an agnostic. Live and let live, without stepping on each other's toes.
This is New York -- you don't NEED anybody's blessing -- everybody is tolerated, as long as they don't shove themselves in our collective faces or take away from the tax base! Could it be the locals are seeing the eruv as a pheromone-like "marking of territory," and it's giving them the willies?

Surely you're not correlating the placing of lechis on utility poles with Jews lifting their legs on same?!?

4. Tugboat Bertha said...

Pheromone-like "marking of territory?" O boy, that was a welcome laugh. Thanks Matlynn.

5. Barbara Ramsay said...

How much does a referendum cost the Village tax payers?

All the costs associated with a regular Village election… election inspectors, the machines and their transportation, etc.… which typically run in the $2000 range, plus the costs of special mailings and legal notices to let residents know the place, date and time of the referendum, as well as the issue(s) being voted on.

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