An eruv erected by Chassidim in Staten Island’s Westerleigh neighborhood has been taken down, following complaints from residents, while necessary permits are obtained.
The Staten Island Advance reports that following the eruv’s erection, anti-Semitic comments were made at a meeting of the Westerleigh Improvement Society earlier this month. Signs saying, “Westerleigh Strong. We’re Not Selling” appeared on neighborhood lawns.
Westerleigh is a neighborhood that Chassidim recently began moving to. Another Staten Island neighborhood, Willowbrook, which Chassidim began moving to several years earlier, has had an Orthodox Jewish presence, and an eruv, for decades.
Rabbi Yaakov Lehrfield of the Young Israel of Staten Island, told the Advance, in reference to the Westerleigh controversy, “The tension was so high, and it was so difficult for many people.”
“It was difficult for the public officials who were being bombarded with phone calls … The Jewish people were being bombarded with probably what is a lot of anti-Semitism and the Jewish people felt a lot of pressure.”
Residents had complained that the eruv was erected though permits had not been granted by utility company Con Edison.
The Westerleigh Improvement Society said in a statement, “We are thankful that most of the eruv has been removed, as it was installed without the required permission, required insurance, and did not follow standard or established details. We are curious why some portions of it remain up without the required items.”
Rabbi Lehrfeld said he hopes things will “calm down” and that the permits will be granted and the eruv erected.
He recently attended a meeting of the Westerleigh Improvement Society and says that residents there “complained to me that they feel like they are in jail. The physical fence makes them feel like they are in the ghetto.” But Rabbi Lehrfeld says, “An eruv is an inclusive idea, not exclusive.”
After a meeting earlier this month, the Society issued the following statement to the Advance:
“Westerleigh is a richly diverse community of residents who have a 100-year-plus history of joining together and enhancing the quality of life for all. The concerns voiced by a few people at the meeting comes from a place of helplessness and fear of the unknown. These concerns are fueled by published articles and events that speak to the changes that occur in neighborhoods when there is concerted effort to populate them.”
Rabbi Lehrfeld said he hopes the community can all be brought together.
“People have fear of the unknown. That’s why if we can get a proper dialogue without just yelling at one another, it will help us very, very much.”