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Monday, November 05, 2007


Politics as usual

I'm not one to comment or pontificate when it comes to politics. I'm not such a big macher. I'm not super-connected. I don't know who's making the back-room deals and who's negotiating with which 'askan' for which slice of which pie.

But here in the Monsey area - Town of Ramapo - local elections are happening tomorrow. And the campaigning and rhetoric have reached a fever pitch. I've been musing about these things for a while, and the latest issue of the Community Connections drove me to the point of blogging about it.

Basically, you have two camps in the elections: The incumbents, who have no problem allowing mosdos and 'student' housing and 'new community' developers to run roughshod over the zoning laws and build, build, build.

Then you have the "Preserve Ramapo" ticket, which aims to put a stop to planned large-scale developments and to scrutinize any development deals to ensure that they don't overburden local resources and/or change the 'suburban atmosphere' of the area.

As many pundits and observers far better informed than I have pointed out, Preserve Ramapo is running on only one issue, and thus has limited appeal, except among those voters who are angry enough at the vast, expanding crowd of ultra-orthodox Jews and the changing 'atmosphere' that they're going to support anybody who says "enough!"

And on the ultra-O side, the incumbents are painted as friends who support the community, and the opponents as rabid anti-Semites who want to shutter every yeshiva and shul in the county.

The reality is a tad more nuanced. Not much more, but a tad.

Looking at the ads in the Connections, it's clear that our ultra-O brothers aren't arguing about the zoning illegalities, the flagrant violations of building codes, and the general overcrowding, squalor, and disrepair of the structures in which they live and worship. All of those things are accepted as true and enduring. The issue is, will the local officials bother us about it?

One ad shows a house facade with an official notice of code violation tacked to the front door. "Do you want this on your house? You'd better vote for the incumbents, or else the opposition is going to win, and then they'll crack down on us!"

Another ad shows a school bus parked in front of a shuttered school building. There are tiny 'speech' bubbles on top of some blurry figures outside the bus:

"Why is the school closed? Why are they sending us home at 9 in the morning?"
"Because of zoning."

Yet another ad shows a photo of the current town supervisor, with the caption, in Hebrew, "Me'chasidei umos ha'olam" - "One of the righteous gentiles."

This title is reserved, traditionally, for non-Jews who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Oskar Schindler. Chiune Sugihara. And then there's Chris St. Lawrence of Ramapo, the man we have to thank for miles of traffic on Route 306 and dangerous conditions on many streets and in many buildings.

Apt comparison, no?

I think it's important for these askanim and rabbunim to wake up and recognize that if ultra-O groups are allowed to develop unchecked, all of Monsey and its surroundings will look like the Horton and Bates developments off Route 59. Unpaved, uneven streets. No grass - just swaths of dirt. Garbage and broken toys littering the front walks. But hey! It's heimish!! I guess that means it's more like a 19th-century Eastern European backwater than a 21st-century neighborhood.

Will there every be any introspection? Will there ever be a point where they look up and say, "Hey, maybe there's a reason these people are so angry at us?"

Or is it just too easy to dismiss their legitimate complaints and criticisms as anti-Semitism?

My money's on the latter. And I'll probably be too busy to vote, anyway.

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