STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - “This meeting is not open to the press” read a sign Tuesday night that hung outside the monthly meeting of the Westerleigh improvement society’s board of directors.
Outside, a line snaked out the door for the many residents who turned out for the larger than usual gathering, all to talk about a religious boundary known as an eruv.
“I’m just curious what’s going on because I’ve read a lot of things on Facebook and the advance I’m just curious how it’s going to pan out,” said one resident.
As NY1 reported last week, residents of this quiet neighborhood were angered after they discovered thin PVC pipes attached to utility poles outside their homes.
The pipes were erected a month ago to create an eruv, which is a kind of symbolic fence that figuratively extends the boundaries of Jewish households allowing activities in public like pushing strollers that are limited to the home on the Sabbath.
Young Israel of Staten Island commissioned the eruv without approval from Con Edison, Verizon or the Transportation Department.
Those agencies are currently working with the group to get the proper approvals.
But that hasn’t stopped the concerns. Residents inside the meeting told NY1 it got heated.
“The idea that its they and them. This is something they know not very much about and not very many are involved in this and the idea is that quite frankly they’re ignorant,” said one resident.
A handout was distributed at the meeting, encouraging attendees to become a member of the group, saying “your membership is a vital part of keeping Westerleigh a desirable place to live.”
This, on top of this leaflet circulated by the group, which encouraged residents to call utilities and elected officials and complain about the eruv.
An attached news article touts Staten Island's growing Orthodox Jewish community causing some to wonder whether the issue is really over the eruv at all.
“Suddenly one woman stood up to say you know the stuff that was crammed into my mailbox was clearly anti-Semitic. It’s meant to be a scare tactic,” said Father Louis Marshall of All Saints Church.
Lawn signs have appeared across the neighborhood, declaring "Not Selling: Westerleigh Strong.”
Apparently, this has been a reaction to incidents of Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn offering to buy homes here at prices above market value. Some residents say the situation was created because the eruv installation was handled wrong from the start.
“This is about the town of Westerleigh remaining the town of Westerleigh, community, that we all want to live in,” said Marc Anderson, President of the Westerleigh Improvement Society.
Anderson also says his group did not sanction those Westerleigh strong signs. He says his group is open to meeting with members of the orthodox community and will continue to address their concerns about the eruv.