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Aug 21, 2008 3:54 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Religious gathering garners attention in village

Aug 21, 2008 3:54 PM

The rules pertaining to the Jewish Sabbath are affecting not only those attending religious services at the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach each Saturday.

A specific rule, one that forbids Jews from driving or being passengers in cars on their holy day, has forced a small group of Orthodox Jews—many of whom own homes on Dune Road that are not within walking distance of the Sunset Avenue synagogue—to gather each Saturday morning or evening inside a Jessup Lane home that was rented this summer by Cape Town-born Rabbi Eli Popack. Services are also held on Fridays and Sundays.

At least 10 men—the number required to hold a minyan, or prayer service, by Jewish law—have attended a Saturday prayer group at a small home called the Beach Minyan, located just south of the Jessup Lane Bridge. Since it is only a prayer group, and not an official synagogue, the weekly gatherings are legal, according to both village officials and Rabbi Popack, who works in the electronic financial infrastructure field at Map International in Manhattan. He signed a five-year lease on the home last year.

“We’re people who get together in Mr. Popack’s living room and have services,” said Eli Katz, a resident of Dune Road who attends the Beach Minyan.

Mr. Katz declined to comment further about the religious group, citing concern about the atmosphere in Westhampton Beach ever since the Hampton Synagogue first proposed creating an eruv, an invisible boundary that, if approved by the Village Board, will allow Orthodox Jews to push baby carriages and wheelchairs to temple on the Sabbath. Those activities are not currently permitted due to the lack of an eruv.

There have been at least four complaints about the Beach Minyan filed by Quiogue resident Irene Barrett, who does not live in Westhampton Beach. However, Westhampton Beach Building Inspector Paul Houlihan emphasized that there is nothing illegal about having a small religious gathering at a private home.

“There is not a lot of activity there,” Mr. Houlihan said, noting that he has had no reason to issue a summons. “There have been websites that talk about a shul on Dune Road,” he added, “but it’s low-key enough that it’s hard for me to classify it as a [synagogue].”

Rabbi Popack, who was also hesitant to comment extensively on the Beach Minyan due to the atmosphere in Westhampton Beach regarding Orthodox Jews in recent weeks, said those who come to his home on Saturdays cannot attend services at the Hampton Synagogue because they cannot make the two-and-a-half-mile trip to the Sunset Avenue house of worship. That is too far a trek to make on foot to attend Shabbat services on Saturday morning and evening, Rabbi Popack said.

Though the Hampton Synagogue’s proposal for an eruv in Westhampton Beach does not extend as far south as Dune Road or the Beach Minyan, Rabbi Popack emphasized that he believes the proposed eruv is an important issue for Orthodox Jews. He declined to comment about how the village’s decision on the application would affect Orthodox Jews who live on Dune Road and outside the eruv’s boundaries.

Rabbi Popack explained that he is not involved with the synagogue’s struggle to create an eruv in the village. He added that the need for such a boundary is not currently an issue for attendees of the Beach Minyan. “When it becomes a question, I will discuss it,” said Rabbi Popack, who lives in Brooklyn in the winter.

Marc Schneier, the founding rabbi of the Hampton Synagogue, is aware of the Beach Minyan. He agreed that a “geographical challenge” has prompted the formation of the group.

“There are people who are geographically challenged and live on Dune Road, two miles away from the synagogue, and follow the Orthodox practice of going to services Friday evening, Saturday morning and then go back Saturday evening,” Rabbi Schneier said. “That’s a lot to ask of someone in the hot summer months, to make three two-mile walks.”

However, Ms. Barrett said on Monday that she sees a problem with the fact that the Beach Minyan is holding religious services in an neighborhood not zoned to permit such activities.

“I made a complaint because it’s a residential neighborhood, and it’s a religious institution in a single-family home,” Ms. Barrett said. “Under current zoning law, that is not allowed.”

Mr. Houlihan said the area of Jessup Lane where Rabbi Popack’s rented home is situated is zoned Residential 3, a type of residential zoning that does not permit houses of worship. However, Mr. Houlihan said that small groups of people, regardless of their religious background, are allowed to gather inside private homes in all areas of the village. He also said that the Beach Minyan is not a synagogue.

“Many of the outward signs—parking problems, noise, debris—have not appeared there,” Mr. Houlihan said. “This could turn into something, and if it does, it’s a different story.”

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So, when you get down to it, there's two people complaining about Orthodox Jews in Westhampton Beach -- and one of them doesn't even live in the village!

So why is the Building Inspector spending his Saturday mornings staking out a private home because of "suspected Judiasm" rather than catching the illegal contractors doing unpermited work on weekends?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Aug 27, 08 8:45 AM
your taxes at work. Like my uncle (who lives on dune road) says: The ambulance & fire dept are both voluntary. The garbage is handled by a private company which he has to pay for. So basically his taxes go towards Police giving him speeding tickets & generally harassing him.
Could you imagine the fury that would be raised if this same anti semite was complaining about a few muslims praying in someone's house on a friday?
By Michael A. (3), NYC on Aug 27, 08 6:19 PM
It is not "two people complaining about Orthodox Jews in Westhampton". It is a large majority of a once peaceful village who is rightfully concerned that there is a group that believes that the laws/regulations/zoning don't apply to them. If you speed, you deserve a ticket.
By sane (3), Westhampton on Aug 28, 08 7:12 AM
Sane; Do you get a ticket even if you do nothing wrong? Mr. Houlihan says that there's nothing wrong with the prayer gathering.
Michael A.; right on! perfect comment!
By Morris Tuchman (5), Westhampton Beach on Sep 3, 08 9:21 PM
I get a ticket if I go too fast and I don't call it harassment. I call it poor judgement. I would expect Mr. Houlihan to check out a complaint and it's not anti-semitism. It is his job as Westhampton Beach Building Inspector. Mr. Tuchman, this entire situation is getting really old and is tearing apart the village that I love but I am pretty sure you don't really care...
By sane (3), Westhampton on Sep 8, 08 2:11 PM