A non-profit organization has cleared two major hurdles on the path to establishing a symbolic Jewish religious boundary, known as an eruv, that would encompass Westhampton Beach Village and the hamlet of Quiogue, the head of the organization said on Wednesday.
Marvin Tenzer, the Westhampton Beach resident who heads the East End Eruv Association, said he received word from Verizon on Tuesday evening that the company intends to allow his organization to attach markings, known as “lechis,” to utility poles in order to delineate an eruv that would encompass Westhampton Beach and Quiogue, and also include parts of Quogue and Westhampton. The Long Island Power Authority, which owns other utility poles in the area, agreed to allow the organization to mark its poles this summer but is currently reviewing that agreement, according to a spokeswoman.
The eruv is a symbolic enclosure; the lechis replace walls in public places. The religious boundary, if created, would allow Orthodox Jews to carry and push objects on the Sabbath, activities that are normally prohibited out of doors on their day of rest.
All that’s left in the process of establishing it, Mr. Tenzer said, is final licenses from both utility companies.
“We don’t have the license yet from Verizon, we haven’t heard from LIPA, so the time horizon ... is still up in the air,” he said regarding when the boundary would be established.
But Westhampton Beach Village Mayor Conrad Teller disagrees with that assessment, stating that his municipality must still sign off on the proposed religious boundary for it to become a reality. “We will be speaking with our attorney,” said Mr. Teller, adding that, as of Wednesday morning, he was not aware of the letter from Verizon or the agreement with LIPA.
To date, the village has not received an application from the East End Eruv Association, and Mr. Tenzer said on Wednesday that his organization has no intention of filing one in the village, even though the Jewish religious law typically requires a government proclamation in order to establish an eruv. Mr. Tenzer said he wasn’t yet sure where his organization would seek government approval; eruv opponents have speculated that the association could apply with Southampton Town, Suffolk County, New York State or some other authority, effectively bypassing Westhampton Beach Village.
“At the moment there is no plan,” he said. “How we’re going to proceed is up in the air.”
The prospect of an eruv has been a touchy issue in Westhampton Beach in recent years. Some residents rallied against a 2008 proposal by the Hampton Synagogue to establish an eruv inside the village, causing the synagogue to retract its proposal that same year.
Opposition ignited again late this summer, when news of a renewed push by the East End Eruv Association became public. Mr. Tenzer has said that the new proposal, which encompasses a larger area than the 2008 proposal, has nothing to do with the Hampton Synagogue, even though he belongs to the house of worship.
Opponents of the eruv, many of whom have rallied around a group called Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv, have cited concerns over the government’s involvement in religious affairs, property values and the prospect of a surge of Orthodox Jews moving into the area. Proponents of the eruv have said the boundary would have no effect on most residents, and would primarily allow Orthodox Jews in the area to push strollers and wheelchairs and to carry items like keys to temple on the Sabbath.
Mr. Tenzer said the tentative approvals by Verizon and LIPA represent the final validations he needs to establish the eruv. He said Verizon indicated it would approve the request after attorneys for East End Eruv Association told Verizon that preventing the eruv would violate federal civil rights law.
In the past, Verizon has taken the position that it would hold off on approving the eruv until East End Eruv Association received approvals from local municipalities. But Mr. Tenzer said his attorneys told Verizon that the villages do not have the legal authority to approve or reject such applications.
Westhampton Beach Village officials have taken the position that an eruv would, by law, require village approval. Previously, all five members of the Village Board have said they would reject an eruv proposal. Quogue Village Mayor Peter Sartorius, meanwhile, sent letters to Verizon and LIPA attorneys in September stating that non-utility attachments to utility poles are not allowed under village law.
Mr. Tenzer, a partner in the Manhattan law firm Tenzer and Lunin LLP, dismissed those positions as having no legal basis. “There’s no question that there’s no requirement that we go back to the villages for any approval, and to the extent that the villages—we’re not asking the villages for anything at this point other than they not violate the law,” he said.
Verizon sent a letter to Quogue officials on Tuesday, stating that the utility company would allow the eruv markings, according to Mr. Tenzer. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Sartorius said he had not received the letter, and declined to comment.