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Aug 3, 2008 5:56 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Governor voices support for religious boundary

Aug 3, 2008 5:56 PM

New York Governor David Paterson voiced his support for the proposed creation of an invisible religious boundary in Westhampton Beach, referring to his own fight against injustice and for civil rights, during a speech given on Saturday morning at the end of Shabbat services at the Hampton Synagogue.

There had been rumors circulating that Rabbi Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue and an 18-year friend of Mr. Paterson’s, would call on the governor to ask the Village of Westhampton Beach to issue a proclamation in support of an eruv, a religious boundary in which Orthodox Jews can push and carry objects on the Sabbath.

Though he did not go as far as asking for a proclamation, Mr. Paterson did express his support for the creation of the boundary.

Mr. Paterson said that “tolerance, understanding and compassion” could bring an eruv to Westhampton Beach. The audience of more than 300 people stood on their feet and applauded Mr. Paterson, who is the first black governor of New York and the first legally blind governor of any state, after he expressed his support for the religious boundary, the application for which has been temporarily withdrawn by the Westhampton Beach synagogue.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” Mr. Paterson said, adding that he might “drop by” the informational public hearing on the proposed eruv that the Sunset Avenue synagogue is hosting next Wednesday, August 13, at 8 p.m.

“It’s disappointing that with the strides we’ve taken in information and technology, we unfortunately have not learned that we are one community,” Mr. Paterson said.

The synagogue first unveiled its proposal to Westhampton Beach Village Board members in February, before withdrawing the application in late May in order to educate the community on the eruv. Since then, controversy about the religious boundary has divided the village.

Mayor Conrad Teller said this week that he would not issue a proclamation permitting the eruv, even if he were asked to do so by the governor.

“I have an obligation to the public,” said Mr. Teller, who has previously stated that he might push for the holding of a public referendum on the proposal. Though he initially supported the idea, the mayor most recently said he is on the fence about the issue.

During his speech, Mr. Paterson said that there should only be “intolerance when it comes to bigotry versus any religious group.”

Just prior to introducing Mr. Paterson, Rabbi Schneier addressed the simmering tensions over the proposed religious boundary, a situation that some have labeled as having anti-Semitic roots.

“I never imagined that, in my own backyard, I would have to fight for the civil rights of my own congregation and community,” Rabbi Schneier said, explaining that he has fought in the past for the civil rights of other minority groups, such as Latinos and African-Americans.

“We have a group of young families, with young mothers, who can’t [bring their children] to shul because the community does not have an eruv,” he added. Without an eruv, young mothers are not allowed to push strollers or carry babies to temple on the Sabbath.

Marty Greenfield, a congregant of the Hampton Synagogue and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp who came to the United States in 1947, said after the speech that “the governor was terrific.” Mr. Greenfield added that he supports the eruv even though he drives to the synagogue and will not utilize the boundary.

“People who discriminate are idiots,” Mr. Greenfield said.

He added that, in his opinion, the religious boundary should be created without first securing approval from the Village Board.

Others in the community who oppose the proposed eruv, the borders of which would be demarcated with black plastic piping affixed to utility poles, also made a point to stop by the synagogue on Saturday to listen to the governor’s speech.

Carolyn Cassidy, who owns a home in Westhampton Beach, said it was “completely wrong” of Rabbi Schneier to invoke the memories of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by comparing the synagogue’s attempts to create a religious boundary to the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“He’s [Rabbi Schneier] trying to create an Orthodox community here,” said Ms. Cassidy, noting that she believed that Mr. Paterson told synagogue members exactly what they wanted to hear.

In addition, Ms. Cassidy said the village’s approval of an eruv, if it were to happen, would violate the separation of church and state—an argument that has fallen short in other court cases in which communities have attempted to block the creation of a religious boundary.

Jacqueline Sprotte, another resident of Westhampton Beach who listened to Saturday’s speech, has previously stated during public meetings that she opposes the eruv and wants the village to hold a public referendum. She said on Saturday that she was “very sorry the rabbi paints us as anti-Semitic.”

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