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Apr 17, 2008 3:58 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

More discussions revolve around eruv

Apr 17, 2008 3:58 PM

Westhampton Beach Village Board members could approve the creation of an eruv in the municipality at their next meeting scheduled for Thursday, May 1, despite additional concerns regarding the project that were raised during last Wednesday night’s work session.

“Based on what I have observed, I believe the trustees will adopt the resolution for the eruv,” said Richard Haefeli, the attorney acting on behalf of the Hampton Synagogue, which is proposing the eruv. The synagogue is located on Sunset Avenue in Westhampton Beach.

But at least one board member said she is still undecided about the issue. Trustee Joan Levan said that, as of earlier this week, she was still fielding calls from residents.

“When I hear from everyone and what they’re going to say, I’ll decide,” Ms. Levan said. “It’s a tough decision. There’s people against it and for it.”

Mayor Conrad Teller also said he could not say for certain whether the measure would be approved, though he is leaning toward the board signing off on the project. He added that board members would need a “real compelling reason not to do it, and we haven’t come up with anything like that, nor do I think we want to.”

Mr. Haefeli went on to explain after last week’s meeting that before the synagogue can mount black plastic piping on utility poles within the village—the piping will demarcate the boundaries of the proposed eruv—it must obtain approval from the village. Gaining approval from the local municipality is a requirement in Jewish law that dates back 2000 years, he said.

The Village Board has been discussing the establishment of the eruv, a zone in which Orthodox Jews can participate in certain activities, such as pushing baby carriages and carrying change in their pockets—things they are usually not permitted to do on the Sabbath—since early March.

The black plastic pipes must be mounted on Verizon and Long Island Power Authority poles to demarcate the boundaries of the eruv which, if approved, will be slightly less than one square mile in area. The eruv will run from Montauk Highway south to Sunswick Lane, with Griffing Avenue and Seafield Lane serving as its eastern border and Potunk Lane and Oak Street marking its western border. Synagogue officials have indicated at previous board meetings that they plan on expanding the boundaries of the eruv in the future.

Jacqueline Sprotte, a resident of Dune Road, an area that would not be included in the eruv, asked board members during last week’s meeting to poll residents to see how they feel about the project. She also suggested that any decision on the eruv be postponed for several weeks until the summer residents arrive.

“It’s pointless to have a community vote,” Mr. Haefeli said. “There’s no authority in the law to have a ‘community vote.’” Approval from the village is different from approval from the community, Mr. Haefeli said.

“We don’t need approval from the community. The community votes in the trustees, and the trustees undertake the actions the village undertakes,” said Mr. Haefeli in a interview after the meeting. “The trustees have all the authority, not the individual residents.”

Mayor Teller said the board will not hold a vote. He added that the village will not seek additional input from summer residents.

Linda Dick, a resident of the village since 1972 who noted that she is not Jewish, said she does not support the board dividing the village into sections. “I’m extremely opposed to the village being divided into zones,” she said. “I’ve always found the village low key and laid back and the eruv would change the tone of the village.”

Even though some residents voiced their disapproval of the project last week, Westhampton Beach Village attorney Bo Bishop explained that, based on past court rulings, the village is obligated to allow the eruv to move forward. For example, the Borough of Tenafly in New Jersey was embroiled in a battle for years before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled on the side of a local synagogue there.

“I’ve talked to the mayor of Tenafly, New Jersey, who had a six-year battle over an eruv and has now had an eruv for the past two and a half years,” Mayor Teller stated during last week’s work session. Mayor Teller stated that Tenafly Mayor Peter Rustin told him that his borough did not experience any significant changes following the establishment of the eruv.

Mayor Teller said board members have been encouraging discussion over the proposal to get feedback from residents. In an earlier interview, Avraham Bronstein, an assistant rabbi at the Hampton Synagogue, said synagogue officials want the community to feel comfortable with the proposal.

The issue of the separation of church and state came up during last week’s discussion. Mr. Bishop explained that there are already many religious symbols on display in the village, such as crosses and Christmas trees, and that the village typically makes accommodations for religious events. He likened these symbols and events to the establishment of the eruv.

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