The establishment of a mostly invisible religious boundary that would encompass most of Westhampton Beach and Quogue villages, allowing Orthodox Jews to push and carry objects to temple on the Sabbath, has been a point of contention for some residents for more than four years—and counting.
Proponents of the boundary are being led by the East End Eruv Association, the not-for-profit that picked up the baton after religious leaders at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach first pitched the idea in 2008. Representatives of the group are insisting that any and all attempts to block the boundary’s creation violate the constitutional rights of those who would benefit from it, namely the observant religious Jews who make their homes, or second homes, near the Sunset Avenue synagogue. In 2011, the East End Eruv Association (EEEA) sued both villages and Southampton Town—a portion of the proposed boundary would fall on Quiogue, which is part of the town’s jurisdiction—in U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York, charging that all three municipalities have violated the civil rights of all observant Jews by blocking the eruv’s creation. Those who would utilize the boundary have noted that Jewish law requires that it be approved and recognized by those who control the area in which it would be placed—the main sticking point in the battle on the East End.
Opponents of the proposal, which include many year-round residents and even some Jews who belong to the Westhampton Beach synagogue, are countering that village and Southampton Town officials cannot be asked to make a decision that some could interpret as the government “favoring” one religion over another. Such action, argues Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius, would violate the constitutional rights of those who would not benefit from the boundary.
In May, the Quogue Village Board unanimously rejected an application filed five months earlier by the EEEA, requesting that board members approve the installation of 48 “lechis”—markers that would be affixed to utility poles to delineate the eruv’s boundaries—in the village. The grounds for the rejection: support for an eruv would violate the freedom of religion that other village residents enjoy and are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution.
In spite of recent suggestions that a federal court ruling is imminent, those familiar with the case said it could still be several months before that happens. The case is complicated by the fact that there are actually three lawsuits, as well as one countersuit, still in play, and all those need to be settled by the courts.
Until that happens, it appears that the tension between those who would benefit from the eruv, namely Orthodox Jews who attend services at The Hampton Synagogue, and those who vehemently oppose it will continue to fester just out of view.
Robert Sugarman, an attorney with the Manhattan firm Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP, which is representing the EEEA pro bono, said recently that the not-for-profit has no intention of giving up the fight. He also said his group continues to follow the path that has been recommended by the courts.
“We have followed the directives of the judge,” Mr. Sugarman said. “We are now pursuing our remedies against Westhampton and Quogue, and we look forward to the argument on those motions. We are also pursuing the application process with the Town of Southampton.”
In September, the EEEA filed an application with Southampton Town requesting that it be allowed to install 28 lechis on 15 utility poles on Quiogue, according to Katie Garvin, an assistant town attorney. She explained that the application requested that the Town Board approve the lechis. The request was denied by the Town Board in October, which explained that the EEEA would need a variance from the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to install the markers. The EEEA filed an application with the ZBA on December 4, but a decision has not yet been rendered.
Brian Sokoloff, an attorney with the Westbury firm Sokoloff Stern LLP and who is representing Westhampton Beach Village, also said his client has no intention of backing down. He explained that the village has two main arguments opposing the eruv’s establishment. The first is that the utility companies—the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon—do not have the authority to approve the creation of a boundary on public property. Second, he said that if a village or town approves such a boundary, it would be seen as favoring a religion, which violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution. Quogue Village rejected the EEEA application on the same grounds in the spring.