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Eruv planners make another pitch

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Jessica DiNapoli   Apr 4, 2008 3:05 PM

The proposed eruv in Westhampton Beach is starting to change shape.

Officials with the Hampton Synagogue on Sunset Avenue, who have been pushing for the establishment of an official area in the village where Orthodox Jews can participate in activities that are forbidden on the Sabbath, are now proposing to affix black plastic tubing to utility poles to mark the boundaries of the proposed eruv. Previously, synagogue officials had suggested affixing large wooden sticks to utility poles to demarcate the area—a proposal that was met with resistance by the village.

At last month's Village Board work session, Richard Haefeli, the attorney representing the synagogue, presented board members with an example of a marker used to demarcate the eruv in Plainview. The marker—a wooden pole that was 4 inches wide, 2 inches thick and 7 feet long—would have had to be installed on nearly three dozen utility poles owned by the Long Island Power Authority and Verizon throughout Westhampton Beach.

Several Village Board members, including Mayor Conrad Teller, balked at the size of the sticks. As a result, the synagogue now wants to switch to a less visible black plastic tube that will run along the sides of the utility poles. The tubing, which was recently used to mark a new eruv in Stony Brook, would have to be installed wherever the eruv changes direction.

Sam Nussbaum, the president of the Hampton Synagogue, told Village Board members at last Thursday night's board meeting that the proposed piping will most likely be made of PVC, be three-quarters of an inch in diameter and run for almost the entire length of the utility poles. Some of the tubes—between 30 and 40 of the tubes would have to be installed—will be round while others are going to be U-shaped. Mr. Nussbaum emphasized that the tubes, which will be black, will not stand out.

Village Board members have not yet made a decision on whether or not to allow the eruv.

During last week's public hearing, Mr. Nussbaum explained that plastic piping was the preferred material when members of the Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation created their eruv. Rabbi Moshe Hoffman of the Stony Brook Hebrew Congregation said his congregation established its eruv over the winter, starting in November and finishing in March. That eruv, created near the SUNY at Stony Brook campus, runs as far north as Setauket and as far south as Moriches.

"The eruv mostly serves the university community, plus a little more," Rabbi Hoffman said. "We had no resistance from the community while we were putting the eruv up."

The eruv allows Orthodox Jews to carry items from a private domain, such as a home, to a public one, such as a street, on the Sabbath without breaking religious law. Many young mothers who must push baby carriages—an activity that is not allowed on the Sabbath—cannot attend services at the Hampton Synagogue on Saturdays without an eruv.

Mark Raynor of Westhampton Beach, a former village trustee, asked Hampton Synagogue officials about the possibility of expanding the eruv north of Montauk Highway, where the electrical lines are buried. He asked whether or not the synagogue would consider installing poles in that area in order to include Orthodox Jews living in that community.

Mr. Nussbaum responded that if the synagogue was to expand the eruv, it "would use existing poles and wouldn't put poles up where there are no poles."

"I don't know what would be done in the situation of having no poles," added Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue. "I don't see this issue as a concern, but we have to be sensitive to the aesthetic needs of the community. We're sensitive to being in the Hamptons."

At the current time, the synagogue is planning to have the eruv run from Montauk Highway in Westhampton Beach south to Sunswick Lane. Griffing Avenue and Seafield Lane would serve as the eruv's eastern border and Potunk Lane and Oak Street would be the western boundary. The Hampton Synagogue is located on Sunset Avenue.

One village resident voiced her concerns about the proposed eruv at last week's meeting. Though she never told village officials to deny the synagogue's request to approve the eruv, Irene Barrett said she did not support the initiative.

"To me, the eruv is a symbol of a religion," Ms. Barrett said. "I've lived in the village for 40 years and there's never been any one group singled out. Why should this group be singled out?"

Bo Bishop, the village attorney, and Mr. Haefeli explained to Ms. Barrett that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit previously ruled that an eruv is not a religious symbol, only that it has religious significance.

"The eruv is not a symbol. A symbol is a cross or a Jewish Star of David," Mr. Haefeli said. "An eruv and the use of pieces that go on telephone poles are the demarcation of a boundary. It has significance because it's been in the Jewish tradition for the last 2,000 years.

"The court decided that establishing an eruv is not treating anyone on an honorary basis," he continued. "The designation of the area of the eruv as approved by a municipality is only a symbolic boundary. There's no symbol on the plastic tubing."

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