Something Is Rotten in the County of Rockland

The chairman of the Rockland County Republican Party seems to have a problem with observant Jews.

In a recent social media posting on the party’s official page, its leader, Lawrence Garvey, called out the county’s Democratic Committee, which had posted support for the “Women’s March” on Washington that took place this past Shabbos, for not taking on what he called “the most egregious example of women’s oppression in our entire country.”

That would be “The ultra orthodox [sic] Hasidic community,” whose “abusive treatment of women,” Mr. Garvey contends, “is epic.”

“In that community,” the local Republican party leader went on, “women must separate themselves from men, must dress as they are told, are forced into arranged marriages, can not [sic] divorce without the approval of their husbands and community leaders, they are not properly educated, can’t attend college…” and more.

Duly taken to task by some for his ignorant, hateful words, Mr. Garvey said that “the post speaks for itself.”

Indeed it does.

And, although the post was later removed, Mr. Garvey said the deletion was only because the issue “had run its course.”

In response to Mr. Garvey’s comments, Rockland County Executive Ed Day said: “I encourage respectful dialogue among the many diverse people who live in Rockland.” A laudable sentiment, although Mr. Day himself has been accused by a former subordinate of expressing an express desire “to limit the growth of the religious Jewish community in Rockland County.”

In another recent official Rockland County Republican Party posting, Mr. Garvey characterized an attempt by an Orthodox Jewish girls school to purchase a property in Nanuet as a “hostile invasion” of the Clarkstown hamlet, referred to “the atrocious educational policies of County Yashiva’s [sic]” and called growth in nearby Ramapo as the town’s “destruction.”

The girls school, Ateres Bais Yaakov Academy of Rockland, was asked to submit a description of its proposed use of the site it wished to purchase, and duly complied. It submitted as well a building permit application and citations of the Clarkstown Zoning Code, federal statutory law, and New York State case law with respect to the use of the site. The building inspector, insisting on a number of other conditions, denied the permit.

There is, unfortunately but undeniably, an ugly undercurrent of bias against visibly Jewish Jews in Rockland County, parts of which have seen influxes of Jewish residents over many years. Some of the negative attitudes may be born of legitimate fears of overdevelopment, or concern with traffic and the like. But, from the words of some elected officials, and the even less guarded ones of private citizens at town hall meetings, animus for observant Jews is amply evident.

There is always some “reason” cited for actions that negatively portray or affect the county’s Jewish residents’ well-being, religious observance or growth. But something old and abhorrent seems to frequently fester behind the often creative pretexts.

Last year, for one of many instances, Clarkstown Councilman Pete Bradley encouraged local residents to call or text him if they “suspect that non-residents are using our Town Parks,” promising to either “personally conduct the security check [or] ensure that the appropriate town employees arrive to perform same.” Orthodox families from neighboring towns were widely perceived to be the public park-sullying targets of Mr. Bradley’s action.

And in case some dogs may have been too hard of hearing to notice his whistle, he went on to explain: “Remember: while other municipalities are out to smother all of their open space with abhorrent high-density housing, our goal is to ‘Preserve Clarkstown’ and our beautiful parks!”

Mr. Day, for his part, helpfully suggested a system in which towns provide daily color-coded wristbands to residents at parks’ entrances to deter interlopers.

Earlier, interestingly, Mr. Bradley criticized New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for visiting with Hasidic Jewish community leaders, contrasting them with what he called “normal Jews.”

And, at a public hearing last summer about educational equivalency in nonpublic schools, he condemned “groups taking money from public school children and shuttling it to private schools that are not teaching anything except blind religious indoctrination.”

Mr. Garvey, on the same topic, railed against “a certain subgroup that vote” — as if exercising a fundamental American right were some form of well-poisoning — and added, for good measure, the outrageous accusation that “they vote often and they vote early.” He also accused the “certain subgroup” of “put[ting] the lives of children at risk.”

What is in fact at risk is any semblance of civility, fairness or tolerance in Rockland County. Tragically, their opposites seem to be deeply ingrained in some officials, who seek to turn their base animus into political capital.