Monsey Memories: The Challenging Beginnings of Orthodox Settlement in Airmont
“Earlier this fall, the Justice Department announced that it secured a consent decree with the Village of Airmont, bringing to a close a lawsuit under the Religious Land Use which would make it easier for shuls to be built in residential areas in Airmont. This is the culmination of a years-long process and a lawsuit that was brought by William P. Barr, the United States Attorney General under President Donald Trump.
“However, this is not the first time that AG Barr was involved in a lawsuit against the village with respect to religious discrimination. In the year 1991, we find the following in the New York Times, a time when Mr. Barr was Attorney General under the George H. W. Bush administration.
“Federal officials yesterday charged a newly created village in Rockland County and the town it was carved out of with discriminating against Orthodox Jews by preparing to adopt zoning restrictions intended to keep them out.
“The accusations were included in a civil damage suit filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan by William P. Barr, the United States Attorney General, and Otto G. Obermaier, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The suit also charged "that other individuals acting at the behest of the defendants have engaged in a pattern of harassment against Orthodox Jews in the village."
“While there have been scores of similar Federal suits enforcing the rights of racial minorities to fair housing, yesterday's suit against the Town of Ramapo and the newly created village of Airmont was one of the first to be filed on behalf of a religious group.
“In April, the town of Ramapo, which has seen an influx of Orthodox Jews in recent decades, authorized the creation of the village of Airmont in which its supporters campaigned on a platform of zoning restrictions that included banning the construction of synagogues in homes.
“The founders of Airmont, whose population of 9,500 includes an estimated 250 Orthodox Jews and many other Jews who are not Orthodox, said at the time that they merely wanted "strong zoning" to preserve the character of their suburban neighborhood. Many longtime residents acknowledged supporting the proposed ban on home synagogues because of the hubbub they bring to residential neighborhoods. Problem on Sabbath
“But Federal officials said that strict observance of Orthodox Judaism requires daily worship and forbids travel by car on the Jewish Sabbath and certain holidays. As a result, they said, any law that restricts the construction of a synagogue close to where Orthodox Jews live would effectively "exclude Orthodox Jews from living in those areas."
"This kind of conduct -- creating a new community with the intent to exclude groups because of their religious beliefs and practices -- is wholly antithetical to basic freedoms upon which this nation was founded," Mr. Barr said yesterday.
“The suit charged that the intent of the harassment was "preventing Orthodox Jews from conducting religious services in the village and thereby excluding them from the village." It said the defendants planned to accomplish this by "imposing burdensome zoning and other restrictions upon Orthodox Jewish places of worship."
“Chaim Friedman, an Orthodox rabbi in Airmont, said yesterday that he was harassed and intimidated by neighbors and that a visitor's automobile was vandalized simply because he was trying to build a small synagogue next to his house.”
The ensuing years have been challenging ones for the budding community of Airmont, and today, there are multiple shuls that have managed to be erected, thanks to the assurance of freedom and liberty in the United States of America.