Monsey Memories: When the United States Sued the Village of Airmont for a Shul
By: Yitzy Fried
The year was 1987, and Congregation Shomrei Emunim of Airmont had been gathering in various homes, changing locations every few weeks.
They had been delayed in building an addition to Rabbi Friedman’s home by the newly-formed town of Airmont’s building regulations. They required minor variances from the town, and the Aurmont Civic Association pledged to oppose them at every turn.
For their part, they did everything to allay the fears of Airmont residents that the town would turn into “central Monsey.” “There are some on the board who feel that even if a synagogue was on 85 acres we don’t want it in Airmont,” one frustrated member told The Journal News.
“Standing in the three-bedroom house that will be converted to include a synagogue, Friedman said the real issue is fear,” The Journal article said. “He said he sensed a racial tension at last December’s session with the town planning board, when another Airmont synagogue was being considered.
Friedman said he sympathizes with the non-Jewish neighbors’ fears that synagogues will bring along with them the crowded appearance of parts of Monsey. ‘We don’t want central Monsey, either,’ Friedman said.
“If our people wanted a ghetto, they would have lived in Monsey. We like the way it looks here–the rural atmosphere, the grass and the trees. We have an interest in preserving that.’”
Three years later, the United States Government, through its then Attorney General William Barr, sued the village of Airmont for discrimination, as the New York Times wrote at the time:
“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."
Unfortunately, the Federal Court in the Southern District ruled against the government, giving legitimacy to the ostensible safety concerns of the Airmont Civic Association, and thwarting the construction of Rabbi Friedman’s shul, at least for the moment.