Friday, November 07, 2008

Eruvin in the News: Westhampton Beach, NY 12 ― A Voice of Reason is Heard (Finally)

Protecting the Village


As part of a PowerPoint presentation on a recent Sunday, the group that calls itself Jewish People Opposed to the Eruv posed a question to those gathered: “How can each one of us help to preserve and protect our village from those who would cause harm?”

It’s a terrific question, and one worth considering.

Nothing causes more harm to a community, to the way it thinks about itself and presents itself to others, than unbridled prejudice. Those who spread paranoia about “outsiders” will destroy a community faster than any such mysterious group of non-residents ever could. And it’s important to ask, How can each one of us protect our village from such people?

The trajectory of the eruv controversy has been startling: In a matter of months, it has gone from a simple disagreement over whether the village should accommodate a request by the Hampton Synagogue for a symbolic gesture, to a truly venomous spectacle. Blame the Westhampton Beach Village Board and Mayor Conrad Teller: By allowing the dispute to fester, with no resolution, they have permitted the ugliness to continue to rise, filling the vacuum left by lack of leadership.

Last week, there was the spectacle of a room full of Jewish people raising the specter of Orthodox Jews overrunning and destroying the “secular community.” Worse, the phrase “Orthodox Jews” was rarely, if ever, used; instead, “they” and “them” and other dehumanizing and xenophobic terms were deployed to cement the image of an invading enemy. It was disheartening, and more than a little sad.

It is long past time for a deep breath. Despite the frantic language, no serious “threat” has ever been linked to the eruv request—unless you count fears that the community might become “too Jewish,” which is what opponents are arguing, even while angrily denying that they might be bigots. (When was the last time you heard it said that a community was “too Christian”?) Many communities have eruvs, and there isn’t a single “horror story” in the bunch. There’s nothing to suggest that the request has any hidden nefarious intent.

Had the Village Board simply approved the request and moved on, one of two things would have happened by now. Perhaps opponents would have filed a lawsuit, so that the courts could decide the matter. Or ... nothing. The debate would have ended, and life would have gone on, the only difference being the absence of months of overheated rhetoric.

As it stands, the eruv debate has peeled the veneer of civility off Westhampton Beach, and exposed an ugliness beneath. How to protect the village from those who would cause harm? Unfortunately, the greatest threat has been here all along.

(Southampton Press ― Western Edition ― Oct 23, 2008, Opinion; Page 8)