Westhampton Beach, NY – It has been five years since the Hampton Synagogue first proposed constructing an eruv in this quaint beach side village, prompting a divisive and emotional dispute that pits less observant Jews against more observant ones, storekeepers who “fear” the eruv against older Jews in wheelchairs, and village officials who believe the eruv would wrongly entangle the government in religion against residents who call that view discriminatory.
The eruv would consist of about 60 10-to-15-foot-long, five-eighths-of-an-inch-wide PVC strips affixed to utility poles and painted to blend in with them. They would be difficult to see, and would be shorter than the poles themselves, said Robert G. Sugarman, the lawyer for the East End Eruv Association, which wants to erect it.
Three federal lawsuits have been filed over the matter, and on Monday, Judge Leonard D. Wexler, of United States District Court in Islip, dismissed one of them: a lawsuit brought by an anti-eruv group, the Jewish People for the Betterment of Westhampton Beach. That group said it would appeal to the Second Circuit in Manhattan. He also set a timeline for the other two suits, one brought by the East End Eruv Association to erect the eruv, and one between the three villages on whose land the eruv would exist, Westhampton Beach, Quogue, and Southampton, and the utility companies that own the poles.
The final rulings could have broad implications affecting the legality of eruvim across the country. But in Westhampton Beach, where the year-round population of 1,500 swells to 15,000 in the summer, many residents are simply hoping the courts can bring an end to the tension the issue has caused.
Only a small percentage of Westhampton Beach residents are Orthodox, and the Hampton Synagogue is the only Orthodox congregation in the area. About 20 of the shul’s year-round congregants, and about 200 families in the summer, are observant enough to need the eruv, according to the rabbi, Marc Schneier.
Read a full report at The New York Times.