Airmont Jewish Community Continues to Create Jewish Infrastructure, Depsite Considerable and Ongoing Resistance

Airmont Jewish Community Continues to Create Jewish Infrastructure, Depsite Considerable and Ongoing Resistance

By Sarah Morgenstern

Airmont residents who do not welcome Orthodox Jewish residents have a long list of complaints: such as that their rustic paradise is becoming “too urban.”

Jewish residents, some unfriendly residents claim, create more traffic, dramatically increase the population, and build up the neighborhood with schools and other structures.

Some claim that Jewish school buses make U-turns, community mikvahs are too large, and some even worry that Jewish cemeteries contaminate well water.

Building a Jewish infrastructure in Airmont has been a struggle since 1991 when 9,000 Rockland County residents created the small village. 

At the community’s inception 30 years ago, Orthodox Jews who wanted to build a shul were met with much resistance and that was just the first of many battles that ensued as Jews set out to create the necessary structures of lives built on Torah.

Now, some residents of Airmont say they chose to live in the verdant area so they could enjoy its trees, deer, and fresh air, however, development plans for a large mikveh, the Skills Building School, and the Har Shalom Cemetery, are threatening their neighborhood's environment.

On April 21, 2021, when the Orthodox Jewish community paid $6.5 million for 18 acres of land on which to build the Har Shalom Cemetery, Airmont residents who live on Hillside Avenue became deeply concerned over their well water, which they thought would be “contaminated” as a result of Jewish burial practices.

“There are three cemeteries within a quarter-mile of the Intersection of Hillside and East Saddle River Road,” said one Hillside Avenue homeowner. “Ascension (Catholic), Mount Zion (Jewish) and Old Stone Church (Lutheran). They are clean and well-kept. 

“The [Orthodox Jewish] cemetery that’s being proposed is bigger than all three of the existing cemeteries combined. Hillside Avenue is a dead-end street, and it’s already becoming a safety issue.

“We are extremely concerned about water, not just losing our wells to development but not being able to drink what comes out of it because there are bodies buried without a proper enclosure.”

By “proper enclosure,” the Hillside homeowner is referring to Jewish laws not to “seal caskets,” or embalming those who have passed away: both practices that the homeowner thinks will result in the water from the area’s shallow wells getting contaminated.

After convening public hearings, the village of Airmont and the Ramapo land-use board approved the cemetery and a large new mikvah, complete with 48 prep rooms and 60 parking spaces, but the Rockland Planning Department said the mikvah was too large for the acreage, and disapproved its current plan, until the Ramapo Planning Board then overruled the county’s contentions.

Throughout the constructions of the both the cemetery and the mikveh, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued citations that claim the projects failed to consider their effects on the environment, however, mikvah attorneys have contested those claims.

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