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Jeanne Sager | Democrat

THE ERUV IS made up of PVC pipes which are attached to telephone poles. It does not add any extra wires to the poles.

Fence Does Not Make For Good Neighbors

By Jeanne Sager
SWAN LAKE — June 22, 2007 — If good fences make for good neighbors, what does a fence more than a dozen feet in the air make?
In Swan Lake, just one word – controversy.
Workers were spotted in the hamlet last week fastening long pieces of what appeared to be PVC pipe to the telephone poles around the lake.
When they followed the utility lines up into Presidential Estates, a private home community with its main entrance overlooking the lake, residents got concerned.
Bill Liblick, president of the homeowner’s association, said he saw “something sneaky” going on.
He jumped online.
He discovered they’re building an “eruv,” a symbolic fence used by observant Jews to move items from place to place on Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) without violating Jewish law.
Sy Ratner, a Presidential homeowner and member of the board of directors of the corporation setting up the eruv, said it simply provides more freedom for observant Jews on the Sabbath.
“It’s a fence, defined by Jewish law, around an area that permits an observant Jew to carry on the Sabbath,” he explained.
Although not a rabbi and unsure of the exact details of the law, Ratner said strict readings of the laws of the faith restrict Jews from carrying anything outside of their private domain.
Under different interpretations, Ratner said everything from stowing a handkerchief in your pocket before heading to synagogue to a mother hoisting her toddler on her hip as she sets out down the road, would be prohibited.
Without the eruv, Ratner said his wife cannot go to shul on Saturdays when their 2-year-old grandson is visiting because law prohibits her both from carrying him on the walk or pushing him in a stroller.
Kids can’t play ball with the kids down the street, and neighbors can’t gather for a communal meal.
With the eruv, life is simply made more enjoyable for Jews on the Sabbath, Ratner said, while allowing them to keep true to the laws of their faith.
As for the actual construction, Ratner said there will be little change to the make-up of the landscape.
The rabbinical consultant brought in to help the Sullivan County Eruv Corporation directed them to use the telephone wires already in place, adding the white pipes that run from the ground to the wire to serve as “door frames,” delineating a continuous boundary.
Application was made to pole owner Verizon by the corporation, and payment for the construction and maintenance is being provided by the families who have contributed.
Ratner said he doesn’t see how the fence has any effect on the non-observant community.
“When you think about it, the cable company puts an extra wire on the pole; this is even less,” he said. “It’s non-intrusive.
“You wouldn’t even know it’s there,” he continued. “The pole has a lot of extra things on it; that’s the beauty of using telephone poles.”
But Liblick is concerned about a religious structure going up in a private community that’s not expressly religious.
“Presidential Estates is not a Jewish community,” he said. “It’s a community for all types of people.
“This is a free society, and they’re putting up eruvs?” he pondered. “If you have private property and you build a bungalow colony and you want to put up an eruv, that’s your right.”
But Liblick said he, as president of the homeowner’s association, should have been notified.
He said the town should have been notified.
“I’m upset that they circumvented the law by not coming to the town and not coming to the homeowner’s association,” Liblick said.
Town of Liberty Supervisor Frank DeMayo admitted he wasn’t informed, but he doesn’t see how the matter falls under the town’s jurisdiction.
“Personally, I don’t have an issue with it,” he said. “It’s not interfering with anyone.
“They’re not putting up any lines; it’s non-obtrusive. Do other people get offended if we put up a Christmas tree in town or someone has a wreath on their door?”
Portions of Brooklyn are surrounded by eruvs. Kiryas Joel is enclosed by an eruv.
They’re not uncommon, DeMayo said.
More to the point, they’re not on town property.
“[Bill Liblick] claimed we had some say in this because they’re on our easement, which is not so,” DeMayo said.
His research shows that the town highway easement has nothing to do with the poles themselves, which Verizon owns.
Verizon Spokeswoman Heather Wilner said her company does indeed own the poles – and they’re subject to federal telecommunications law.
As long as organizations follow the proper application process and plan to use the pole “for a legitimate reason,” Verizon is required to work with them, Wilner said.
In this case, Sullivan County Eruv Corporation filed the paperwork, provided the pipes and will be responsible for maintenance.
Without the addition of actual wires, there’s nothing in town zoning that this project could possibly violate.
DeMayo said the only place he can see an issue is in a reading of Jewish law itself that he has been given.
The laws of the faith call for an agreement with the community before erecting an eruv.
“They didn’t do that,” DeMayo said. “And their law is higher than our law in their minds.”
What he’d like to see is a presentation or some sort of explanation of an eruv made at the a town board meeting to better inform the public.
“In the interest of keeping the peace,” he explained. “We all have a right to be here, we all have to get along.
“But on both sides of the fence, people need to communicate.”
Liblick was frank about his own mission.
“We don’t care what you do on Swan Lake; that we’ll take up as Swan Lake residents,” he said. “But we do not permit eruvs [at Presidential].”
He wants the structure taken down.
Ratner said he’ll be at the July 16 meeting of the Liberty board at the Swan Lake Firehouse.
That’s where DeMayo hopes the two sides can come together to put information on the table.
But he doesn’t want a screaming match like the one the Swan Lake meeting of the board devolved into two summers ago.
“We would like a calm discussion,” he said.
One of the board’s traveling summer sessions, the meeting will be held at 7 p.m. at the firehouse on Monday, July 16.

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