It was f'ugly...

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It was f'ugly...

Updated 08/28/2008 - 3:32 pm

...and there was definitely no breakthrough earlier this evening at Hampton Synagogue.

The eruv education meeting began ten min­utes late but ended early for a sizable chunk of the overflow crowd which exit­ed loudly and in high dudgeon.

After Westhampton Beach Mayor Conrad Teller led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, local teacher and Synagogue member Glenn Dor­skind read a clearly heartfelt plea for compas­sion and understanding from all sides for the "town¹ he loves and calls home."

Then for reasons which are still unclear, Syna­gogue member Joel Cohen was selected to get the "education" portion of the meeting rolling with one of the most ill-considered appear­ances before a group since actor Ted Danson appeared in Jolson-esque blackface before the Friar's Club tribute to Whoopie Goldberg.

After some meandering prefatory remarks, and stating that he didn't read blogs, Mr. Cohen read what he called "E-mails" he'd receiv­ed. Both, however, were actually Comments from the report on NYS Governor David Paterson's address to the Synagogue.

Even when the cat-calls started and some very clear language about skipping that part and getting on with the meeting, Cohen refused to take the acrimonious hint. When he persisted² in continuing to read a particularly vile mes­sage that had appeared briefly on before deletion, exeunt hommes et dames 16 minutes after the start of the program.

(It has been suggested that this mass ex­odus might have been pre-arranged, but it didn't have the feel of a "set-up job.")

He came perilously close to losing the rest of the crowd by insisting in reading George Her­bert Walker Bush's 1990 proclamation estab­lish­ing an eruv in District of Columbia... most of the already restless attendees were conver­sant with the 41st President's words, and were in no mood to hear them again.

"Moderator" Cohen finally got to the meat of the meeting and attempted to set the ground rules for the audience participation portion.

It is said that in battle, no plan survives first contact with the enemy, and whatever grand scheme envisioned for the evening had all but dissolved in the exhaust fumes of those who'd left the premises.

Next up was a recitation of the contents of a hand-out given to all attendees, a slight re­finement of the "True/False" space advertise­ment sponsored by Synagogue President Morris Tuchman in the August 7th Press.

It was something Miss Pike's Kindergarten class wouldn't have sat still for 60 years ago at Six Corners, so it came as scant surprise that the remaining audience didn't either! The loudest call was:

"We didn't come to be read to or lectured! We want a dialogue!"

Spoken out of turn, but it signaled that many were there in good faith and for an exchange which didn't seem to be on the agenda.

Another problem: with all the wealth the Syna­gogue has tapped into, they only had one (1!) microphone which had to be shared by the four members on the dais, and the entire audience.

Jacqueline Sprotte of Dune Road, by Nassau County out of Brooklyn, served as unofficial mistress of the "mike" while Mr. Cohen finally shut-up and sullenly reflected on his near-fatal missteps.

For the actual blow-by-blow, see the videotape of the 110 minute meeting, but several obser­vations and impressions:

  • The former Rosemary Sabo who splits time as Mrs. Tim Towers and secretary to the Mayor, surprised many with such a clear statement regarding one of the oft-muttered-about annoyances of "locals" that Rabbi Marc Schneier took formal notice of her remarks about the way those walking to and from Shabbat services used the roadway instead of the sidewalk, and vowed to address this with his congregants.

    (Gutsy gal, Rosey! Impressive!)
  • Several of the Jewish faith spoke in unequivocal and rational terms of their opposition to an eruv in Westhampton Beach.
  • Carolyn Cassidy of Westhampton and Alliance repre­sentative Mark Williams both spoke articulately and meaning­fully about the true nature of the con­flict which is proving so divisive within the Village, but it's unknown how well the Rabbi actually "heard" what they were saying.
  • Rabbi Schneier let it be known in no uncertain terms that he was going to have the eruv one way or the other, even if he had to have the Suffolk County Executive or the Governor issue the proclamation, or if he had to litigate to force the Village Board³ to do it.

    It is his intention to have the eruv no matter the strength of the voices in opposition, despite his written words of May 23rd about "not wishing to win a pyrrhic victory."

    In his specifically expressed view, now that he feels that he has the blessings and support of local Interfaith Council, the residents' feelings are immaterial.

(It was reminiscent of the type of thing Governor Nelson Rockefeller would do, such as the time almost 40 years ago when he stated that within 30 days the woeful Long Island Railroad would become the "fin­est commuter line in the country."

And one month later, on October 11, 1969 the Governor announced: "On this day, we have, officially, become the fin­est commuter railroad in the country."

One gets away with stuff like that if one has the juice, and juice is something the Rabbi has in abundance.)

As already noted, it was fugly! The arrogance displayed at the front of the room... that of Mr. Cohen gave the Rabbi's "airs" a run for the money... was appalling and likely profoundly disturbing even to those who tried to come with an open mind and heart.

There was considerable anger and suspicion on the part of the anti-eruvians, and it cannot be said that their provocations were illusory.

It should be noted that Rabbi Schneier intends to take his eruv educational program on tour, starting with Saint Marks Church next month.

But if we've learned anything these past 15 weeks, it's that if he's going to that part of the Village, he should really head across Potunk to Westhampton Country Club with as much humility as he can muster... or feign.

Next: The parking tickets issued outside the Synagogue.


¹.- Nineteen years ago, I was able to success­fully instruct Glenn in the basics of marks­manship... but in the intervening years I have singularly failed in teaching him that it's a "Village."

².- A friend suggested that Cohen, an attorney by vocation, probably felt that this was similar to an opening statement at trial, and refused to be daunted. A grotesque mis-judgment.

³.- Or, as former multiple Board member Victor Levy has, with cause, dubbed them, "The Mill Road Players."


1. Stu Feinstein said...

Dean... nice to see you! Enjoy your blog.

Good to see you resurface again after all these years, Stu.

2. Cynthia DiLonardo said...

Hi Dean, I was wondering where can the video of the eruv meeting of August 13th be viewed. Thank you, Cynthia

I have no information on that at this time… be assured that you're not the only one who has inquired.

3. Bruce McAllister said...

In addition to the outright rudeness shown by Mr. Cohen, the meeting was shocking in the moral bullying by the Rabbi, and the intellectual dishonesty (perhaps inadvertent) of his counsellors. We were repeatedly informed that the "eruv" was a "civil right," equivalent, we were supposed to believe, to a person's right to vote or ride on public transportation - rights that are not only protected under our Constitution but of which many of our fellow citizens were deprived within living memory, not (like the right to carry on the Sabbath) by their churches, but by municipal authorities. The memory of those who fought for Civil Rights in the '60s was defiled by the comparison.

And there is no provision in the Constitution, nor in any case with which I'm familiar, that requires any governmental unit to proclaim or to participate in a particular religious property law as does an "eruv." There are many cases which state that it is Constitutional to do so, but nothing that says we must. If Westhampton Beach does nothing, the Rabbi's vaunted recourse to litigation will earn him nothing but the dislike of the community.

It might be too late to worry about that, Sir. A compelling case can be made that he has within the past three months broken faith with the community so severely, that it is doubtful whether he can rehabilitate himself in those eyes.

He certainly has the personal charm to make the attempt if he elects to do so, but his ego likely won't permit it.

For the record, Governor Paterson's ill-conceived and alarming proclamation that "an eruv is a Civil Right" to the contrary, I don't believe it is, and can find no source that states anything of the sort. Certainly Tenafly Eruv Association, Inc. v. The Borough of Tenafly doesn't.

4. Joel said...

"The Eruv Rav."

Thanks... I'm all over it.

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