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Apr 5, 2013 1:20 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Group Seeks Southampton Town Zoning Board Approval For Religious Boundary In Westhampton

Apr 10, 2013 9:12 AM

The East End Eruv Association presented its case to the Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals last week for establishing a religious boundary called an eruv in Westhampton Beach Village and Quogue Village, and including the unincorporated area in between.

The association is asking the ZBA to reverse Town Chief Building Inspector Michael Benincasa’s determination that “lechis,” or markers that delineate the eruv’s boundaries, are signs, which are prohibited by town code to be posted on telephone poles. If a reversal is not granted, the EEEA is asking for a variance to be granted, which would allow the placement of 28 lechis on 15 utility poles on Summit Boulevard, Montauk Highway and Tanners Neck Lane.

An eruv is a symbolic boundary and visible demarcation of a defined geographic area that allows Orthodox Jews to push strollers, wheelchairs and carry items such as house keys on the Sabbath and religious holidays. The eruv extends to streets, sidewalks and the private properties within and along the border. Without an eruv, Orthodox Jews could not do those and other activities prohibited outdoors on the Sabbath, according to Jewish law, and may be prevented from attending temple.

The proposed eruv would span from Quogue Village to Westhampton Beach Village, and include areas of Westhampton and Quiogue. Only the unincorporated areas are under the purview of the Town ZBA, and the subject of the application. The Hampton Synagogue is the only house of worship that would benefit from the boundary.

The proposed eruv has been the subject of controversy for locals for more than four years. The ZBA application is the most recent attempt by the EEEA to set up an eruv—last year, the Quogue Village Board rejected an EEEA application that sought permission to install 48 lechis in the municipality.

And last summer, the Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv (JPOE), filed a federal lawsuit against the Village of Westhampton Beach, the EEEA, and utility companies Long Island Power Authority and Verizon, stating that the establishment of an eruv would be a violation of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. U.S. District Judge Leonard D. Wexler dismissed the lawsuit earlier this year without explanation, and the JPOE plans to appeal the judge’s decision.

Two other lawsuits are set to be heard by the same judge this month. The first, initiated by the EEEA, alleges that Southampton Town and the villages of Quogue and Westhampton Beach violated the constitutional rights of members of the group by interfering with negotiations with LIPA and Verizon. The second was jointly filed by the utility companies, also naming the three municipalities as defendants, arguing that utilities cannot be fined for allowing the EEEA to install lechis on their poles. The trial pertaining to the LIPA and Verizon lawsuit is slated to begin this month.

At this month’s ZBA meeting, Attorney Michael McCarthy, of McCarthy and Reynolds PC of Huntington, who is representing the EEEA, argued against Mr. Benincasa’s determination that the lechis are signs. He said that they do not convey a message to the general public and would not be noticed, since they would be camouflaged on the utility poles. A lechi is typically a plain black plastic strip, signifying a door post.

“People wouldn’t even know it was there,” he said. “A lechi is rather benign and can be painted so it blends in with the pole. The casual observer wouldn’t even know it was there.”

He continued on to say that he was “befuddled” that Mr. Benincasa would consider the lechi a sign, because there are no markings, numbers or letters, and there is not a symbol of any kind on them.

According to Robert Sugarman of the Manhattan firm of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, who is defending the EEEA in the federal lawsuit, there can be no alternative way to mark the eruv, according to the advice of religious authorities. He pointed out that posting lechis is so common in the United States that Verizon has a standard form eruv agreement.

Jonathan Sinnreich, of Sinnreich Kosakoff and Messina LLP of Central Islip, the attorney representing the JPOE, said the lechi is indeed a sign that is “intended to communicate a deeply symbolic religious message,” and is not “a merely passive and utilitarian device...”

Further, the establishment of an eruv would be “a condescending insult to the members of JPOE and the public at large,” and would create a separation between Orthodox Jews and Jews who do not belong to that community, he said.

“Establishing an eruv would be dividing the Jewish community into belongers and non-belongers—who can join and who cannot,” he said. “Its purpose is to consciously and deliberately promote the idea of inclusion and non-inclusion.”

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Table the applicatin pending the determination of the federal court on the pending litigation.

No municipality may violate the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by permitting the demarcation of a terrritory as belonging to one religious sect or another.

Let the federal court be done with its business first.
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Apr 5, 13 2:28 PM
Im confused as to the need for the eruv. Can the orthodox community simply prepare a map saying where the eruv is, without posting anything on the light poles?

i dont care one way or the other, just curious.
By tm (174), mtk on Apr 5, 13 3:00 PM
A picture of one a lechis would be nice to see. Just sayin'
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 4:06 PM
I found the photo of a lechi -- why couldn't you? I think it's #4 -- the E3A lawyer in holding one.
By Frank Wheeler (1796), Northampton on Apr 5, 13 6:45 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 9:47 PM
Got it, thanks.
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 9:47 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 9:47 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 5, 13 9:47 PM
I get it -- you got it!
By Frank Wheeler (1796), Northampton on Apr 6, 13 1:00 AM
2 members liked this comment
Don't know what happened there. :P
By But I'm a blank! (1278), Hampton Bays on Apr 6, 13 2:12 PM
It really isn't even about what lechis look like. It is the official designation, on paper, that matters.

Your property deed sits on some microfiche in the County Clerk's Office, it doesn't matter who even knows its there, but it is symbolic of your property right.

An "eruv" that is an area considered to be the extension of the private property of the "observant" is a claim to a property right.

Even if the rest of the community says its imaginary, there are still the ...more
By Publius (358), Westhampton Beach on Apr 8, 13 9:30 AM
Extortion by legal procedure, the bread and butter of civil law. The strategy is to cost local government so much time and money that it eventually decides that the principle involved isn't worth the candle and gives in.

In fact, the signage question is irrelevant to the 1st Amendment violation that lechis or any religious symbol posted on government property would constitute but the E3A hopes that the latter question is never tried before a court competent to decide it. Limiting the ...more
By highhatsize (3597), East Quogue on Apr 5, 13 4:27 PM
If we let this group put up a religious symbol then the next group needs one. Then the Athiest need to install a symbol. What if skin heads or Nazi's want a symbol do they get one also? This is a country that adopted religious freedom not a country that lets religion invade other peoples public space. People in Westhampton are very much against this so why make the majority upset? I personally have no problem with any religion just don't wave your finger in others face with your beliefs and rituals.
By chief1 (2468), southampton on Apr 5, 13 9:08 PM
3 members liked this comment
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By bigfresh (3556), north sea on Apr 6, 13 2:37 PM
It may be a stick on a pole but it is certainly a sign if it universally means something to someone. I could have a swastika in the upper amazon and it means nothing at al to anyone who sees it but paint it on a wall in the US, you will certainly get a different reaction.

By Hambone (499), New York on Apr 8, 13 9:42 AM
PLEASE put an eruv around hampton bays. then perhaps all these hardworking, taxpaying, law abiding, peaceful citizens who value education will move into our little town and get our home values up.
By davidf (325), hampton bays on Apr 8, 13 9:09 PM
to davidf:

The Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach and 90% or the residents have your back.

Better yet, the Hampton Synagogue could relocate to the Canoe Place Inn as The Canoe Place Inn Synagogue (in place of the dubious plan of a hall-for-rent.) Unlike the sitting residents in Westhampton Beach, the potential residential purchasers in the Canoe Place Inn project would have NO expectation of the quiet enjoyment of their property. They would be aware in advance ...more
By highhatsize (3597), East Quogue on Apr 9, 13 12:32 PM
Yes, and maybe then you can turn your attention to the law abiding "hoards" that descend on Hampton Bays in form of post adolescent Boardy Barn drunks who make our town the laughing stock of the South Fork. Or are the owners of the Boardy Barn fastidious upright citizens deserving of town police forbearance and the attendees of the synagogue in Westhampton are not? How about repeated assaults, stabbings, and other assorted disturbances of the peace at the HB diner? Protected under the law? And ...more
By dfree (527), hampton bays on Apr 9, 13 3:55 PM
So now if someone disagrees with the idea of an eruv in WHB they are a bigot?! Sorry Dfree, that's a pitiful attempt at stirring the pot.
By bigfresh (3556), north sea on Apr 10, 13 6:56 AM