Oorah is suing Schoharie County, where its summer camps are located, alleging the camps were unduly targeted by county officials over coronavirus restrictions.
In summer 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered all summer camps to close to coronavirus concerns. Many summer camps in New York and New Jersey, including frum ones, hastily reorganized themselves as day camps, hotels, or family retreats in order to continue operating.
Oorah reopened its Zone summer camp for girls as “family residences,” but county inspectors determined the families staying there were not abiding by coronavirus restrictions regarding masks and social distancing, the Times Union reported.
In a comment to Hamodia, an Oorah representative said, “We were not ostensibly ‘family residences’. The reality is that we completely revamped our program and our facilities to operate as family camp. We invited small groups of Oorah families who are part of our programs and whose children were registered for camp to join us for extended weekend retreats. We invested a LOT of resources in ensuring the facilities were able to operate safely and with extensive health and safety measures in place. Just a few examples include requiring negative COVID tests from all attendees, reconfigured sleeping areas, sanitizing stations and regular disinfection of amenities, face masks required when not social distancing and much more.”
County inspectors fined the Zones more than $60,000 in health violations.
Oorah sued Schoharie County and Health Commissioner Amy Gildemeister, alleging they were placed under undue scrutiny while secular camps were not, and that this was part of a pattern of several years of tensions with local authorities. Oorah is arguing its freedom of religion and equal protection rights were violated.
Locals have often complained that the Jewish campers and families who come for the summer do not participate in the local economy.
In some cases, the complaints veered into anti-Semitism, such as the time in 2008 that officials mulled hanging a sign with swastikas to deter Oorah staff. The transcription of the meeting where the offensive comment was made was previously presented in a separate court case.
“We’ve been facing hostility and discrimination both outright and subtle in the area for years. The level of harassment we received over the summer was not to be believed if you didn’t experience it yourself,” Oorah told Hamodia. “We take COVID concerns and precautions very seriously. But in this case, they were clearly being used just as an excuse and a justification for improper closure of our camps.”
Oorah spokeswoman Chaya Rivka Kirwan told the Times Union that “We hope to be able to open as summer camps but if that is not feasible given the health situation, we will be operating family retreats at the facilities with the same rigorous precautions and safety measures we put in place last year.”
The filing is available here.
Updated Tuesday, February 9, 2021 at 1:26 pm .
Updated Wednesday, February 10, 2021 at 10:48 am .