Kiryas Joel Village Demolished part of the Dissidents’ Shul

KJ dissidents defend grievance
Village leaders claim lawsuit has ‘no merit’

Top Photo
Conflicts continue to brew between two factions in the Village of
Kiryas Joel, leading to a federal lawsuit announced Monday. In a
previous skirmish between the two Kiryas Joel groups, the majority
faction sent a backhoe to demolish part of the area in front of the
dissidents’ shul in October 2009. Dissidents prevented it that day,
but demolition resumed the following June.Times Herald-Record/TOM BUSHEY

Chris McKenna
By Chris Mckenna
Times Herald-Record
Published: 2:00 AM – 06/15/11

After collecting grievances for years, Kiryas Joel dissidents say the
conflict that drove them to federal court on Monday to seek a drastic
remedy was the closure of a synagogue in which one of their groups had
prayed for years.

After losing their fight in state court to keep open their shul, and
then failing to get Kiryas Joel’s authorities to let them reopen it,
the dissidents added that chain of events to a court complaint
alleging pervasive discrimination against them by the village’s ruling
faction — and asking that the municipality be dissolved after 34 years
in existence.

As longtime dissident Joseph Waldman explained at a news conference
announcing the lawsuit Monday, people in the minority faction were
willing to be passed over for municipal jobs and to be taxed
differently, but they couldn’t accept the closure of a synagogue.

“One thing that every Jew will give his life for is to have a place to
do his prayers,” Waldman said.

Dispute began with apartment

Village leaders responded to the lawsuit on Tuesday with a statement
saying “a small group of discontented persons” was using the case to
try to undo the will of voters, since their political candidates have
lost in municipal elections.

The leaders claim the case has “no merit.”

“The discontents filed a similar lawsuit some dozen years ago,” the
statement reads. “That lawsuit was dismissed, and the rejection upheld
by the federal Second Court of Appeals.”

Kiryas Joel leaders also boasted of the wide-ranging municipal
services they provide for “over 21,000 souls” and denied any
discrimination in delivering them.

“The services-oriented policies of the elected government have
benefitted all residents of the Village and indeed have benefitted the
greater community,” they wrote.

The synagogue dispute that motivated the new lawsuit involves a former
apartment built in the 1970s for Satmar founder Joel Teitelbaum on the
back of the building where Kiryas Joel’s main congregation worships.

A dissident group later inherited the space from Teitelbaum’s widow
and converted it into a house of prayer.

The group, known as Congregation Bais Yoel Ohel Feige, vacated the
building under court order in December 2009, having been told it
needed approval for the new use.

The group has since sought permission to reopen the synagogue, without success.

Similarities to previous case

A series of skirmishes took place before and after the dissidents left
their shul.

In October 2009, they stopped a construction vehicle sent by the
majority faction as it ripped out a fence around the shul. But
demolition resumed the following June, when two excavators ripped up a
stone walkway, buried septic tank, fence and curb.

That dispute and the lawsuit are reminiscent of a battle Waldman and
his fellow dissidents waged in the 1990s over another synagogue.

That conflict also snowballed into a federal civil-rights case —
brought by Sussman — that ended in 1997 with the shul staying open and
the village agreeing to pay $300,000.

Sussman made an analogy to that earlier case during Monday’s news
conference, saying that dissidents had once again turned to a higher
venue to redress their grievances.

“The state courts wouldn’t hear about it,” he said. “But the federal
courts will.”

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