Claims of Anti-Semitism Dog Catskills Village

     MANHATTAN (CN) – The Catskills village of Bloomingburg must proceed to the discovery phase of a lawsuit filed by a Hasidic community upset about being denied a permit to construct a ritual bath, a federal judge ruled.
     Bloomingburg’s roughly 400 residents live about 25 miles west of Newburgh, in the foothills of the Catskill Mountains. The village had been considered a gateway to the popular summer Borscht Belt vacation region that New York City Jews frequented in its heyday, between 1940s and 1960s.
     The village also is roughly an hourlong drive from the town portrayed in the film “Dirty Dancing,” but its place in Jewish popular culture these days has taken a sharp turn as a feud erupted involving the incoming Hasidic population.
     Last year, the Bloomingburg Jewish Education Center became the lead plaintiff in a $25 million federal lawsuit claiming that anti-Semitism motivated resistance to the community’s hopes of opening a Jewish ritual bath known as a mikvah.
     The neighboring town of Mamakating also allegedly prevented Winterton Properties from building such a bath.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest found these bias allegations plausible this past week, noting in a 56-page opinion that the Hasidic community’s lawsuit portrays the discrimination they faced as overt and unapologetic.
     In a public meeting on May 17, 2012, ex-Bloomingburg trustee Clifford Teich allegedly asked the village’s attorney John Kelly if there was a way to ensure that no Hasidic Jews would move into Chestnut Ridge, a housing complex of 396 townhomes and amenities designed by Sullivan Farms II.
     “It’s insane that you just asked me that question,” Kelly responded, according to the lawsuit.
     Roughly two years later, several officials campaigned for an anti-Hasidic Rural Community Coalition (RCC) platform with the slogan “stop 400 from turning into 4,000” to scare Bloomingburg away from welcoming a rush of new residents, the lawsuit alleges.
     Forrest found that the Hasidic community “provided detailed and legally sufficient allegations” that Bloomingburg, the village’s board, Mayor Frank Gerardi, and trustees James Johnson and Katherine Roemer were “motivated by discriminatory animus and intentionally acted to discriminate against Hasidic Jews.”
     “For instance, Mayor Gerardi, who voted for the moratorium, is alleged to have campaigned for office on a platform that openly opposed Hasidic Jews moving into Bloomingburg; to have received political support from the RCC, an allegedly anti-Hasidic organization; and to have referred to Jewish people as ‘those things,'” the opinion states.
     Mamakating fared far better at skirting the allegations, and its lawyer Brian Sokoloff from the firm Sokoloff Stern LLP applauded the ruling for having “gutted most of plaintiffs’ case” against the town and its supervisor, William Hermann.
     Forrest also rejected the Hasidic community’s claims that discrimination had blocked them from building a religious school called the Learning Tree, a kosher pizzeria, and a retail building known as Commercial Corner.
     The Hasidic community’s attorney John Henry of the Whiteman Osterman & Hanna LLP wrote in an email: “We’re pleased the court sustained our clients’ religious discrimination claims against the town and village and look forward to our day in court to prove those allegations.”
     Bloomingburg’s attorney Steven Mogel noted in a statement that Forrest had been required to “believe the plaintiffs’ version of the facts, however skewed they may be,” during the motion to dismiss phase.
     “Once the court reaches the merits of the case, and can consider the real evidence, it will become clear that the village has not violated any rights of the plaintiffs,” he added.
     Meanwhile, Bloomingburg and Mamakating recently launched a legal counteroffensive casting the Hasidic communities’ development plans as a “hostile takeover,” in a federal racketeering suit filed in April.
     Hasidic power brokers attempted to “silence vocal opponents” of their ambitious development plans through “a national propaganda campaign to defame” the towns as indifferent to anti-Semitism, the towns alleged.
     Forrest also presides over that case, and has not yet ruled on a motion to dismiss.

%d bloggers like this: