Rockland County, A County Divided.

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republished from JUNE 26, 2016-We republished this article because it has been getting over 200 views a day for close to two months and always remained in the top ten since its publication. Election season has people revisiting “Rockland County, a County Divided.”

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One resident likened present day Rockland County to the Bronx in 1969, “it’s like the doors are about to blow right open and everyone is pretending like they can stop it.”

The last time New York’s smallest county was amidst this much neighborly controversy was in 1955, when the Tappan Zee Bridge was first built. The new bridge connected Westchester and Rockland Counties and forever changed the landscape of farms and apple orchards into track housing, strip malls, and bedroom communities with the NYS Thruway, a corridor laid right through the middle of Rockland, giving way to upstate New York from New York City, Westchester and beyond.

As Tappan Zee Bridge’s replacement is being built, a similar controversy is brewing; but it’s not about what’s to come, it’s about what is already here.

The controversy is so widespread, so prevalent; you would be hard-pressed to speak to any resident at length before this topic is brought up.

The taboo topic crossing everyone’s lips is the ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Ramapo and their takeover of Ramapo neighborhoods, the East Ramapo school district, and the allegations that many Rockland politician’s careers are bought and sold with their excessive bargaining and purchasing power.

These are allegations the FBI appear to be investigating seriously since the first raid in Ramapo Town Hall in 2013. In March, many private Jewish schools, called yeshivas, were raided by FBI in Rockland, Orange, and Kings Counties. News source News12 claimed up to 50 politicians would be arrested that same day.
While all the politicians remain in office, and only one top-level politician was arrested in April, Ramapo Supervisor Chris St Lawrence, for bad bonds on a stadium building deal that 70 percent of constituents voted “No” on a referendum. Samuel Tress and Aron Troodler, Ramapo Councilman and Ramapo Asst. Attorney, respectively, were also arrested in connection with Ramapo deals.

ajewishboystandsLast week, East Ramapo school district proposed a $55 million capital bond in an attempt to partially restore the district that is now under state-mandated oversight.  A monitor with no veto power was finally on the ground after months of debate and political wrangling. The state of the East Ramapo School’s depleted resources and needed implementation of proper oversight was due to members of Hasidim placing themselves on the school board in an admitted effort to reduce taxes and look out for the interests of their children in religious private schools.

Some Rockland residents allege the corruption is so much deeper, with building permits for overdevelopment and zoning laws being distributed with a seeming rubber stamp, many believe it is the politicians in power and this ultra-orthodox banded voting bloc that are the only ones making out on the deals.

Adam Peltz, Ramapo fire inspector, was alleged by state officials to have failed to see serious safety violations or ignored the problems at several private schools. Adam Peltz was not fired by town board as County politicians and residents had hoped, but simply demoted to Assistant Fire Inspector by FBI indicted Christopher St. Lawrence and Town Council.12963626_1200533433292400_5407810827482113732_n

In Ramapo’s Spring Valley Village Chief Building Inspector Walter Booker and businessman Jacob Goldman were arrested for allegedly stealing taxpayer money and filing false certificates of occupancy for Goldman’s Zeissner Lane house.

Weekly tirades and lawsuits at the taxpayer’s expense occur between the Spring Valley Mayor Delhomme and board member Vilair Fonvil to the point of distraction, seemingly preventing any real Village Board oversight.

A wake of Rockland County residents are left to wonder who to trust? Do they have a representative that has their best interest, if any interest, in mind? With the rising property and income taxes, are the Rockland taxpayers the one footing the bill for all this claimed corruption?

This open panic across the county has led to a critical mass of residents determined to band together to vote against the Hasidim’s prized politicians, therefore neutralizing their political power and then the voters are left to hope their new representative will enact laws to halt seeming corruption and the spending of taxpayer money.

Orangetown held a more than 600-resident meeting at the Pearl River Elks club last month to discuss a perceived looming threat from the real estate savvy Hasidim, who has acquired land in the hamlet of Pearl River. Now the residents of Pearl River are seeking to incorporate as a Village to limit development in both business and residential.

Orangetown Supervisor Andy Stewart (D) and Orangetown council were the first to enact a ‘No-knock’ law to disable aggressive realtors from soliciting houses on the doorstep of the owner’s homes. Clarkstown Sup. George Hoehmann, (R) was quick to enact similar legislation. County Legislature Laurie Santuli (R-Congers) has moved to make a County-wide law so all residents can enjoy a knock-free zone. Unfortunately, the law does not ban politicians from knocking on your door.

A county-wide ban on out of county visitors at Town Parks is also being discussed by elected officials in Orangetown and other Rockland Townships.

Local residents, writers, and activists have started their own social media pages in an effort to broadcast to thousands of followers and residents the daily political news stories, public meetings and real estate efforts of the Hasidim in Rockland County.

Facebook pages such as ‘Block the Bloc vote’, ‘Clarkstown-What they don’t want you to know’, ‘East Ramapo Underground’, ‘Take Rockland Back #RocklandStrong’ have each attracted thousands of followers, and many shares across Facebook.

Members of Orthodox communities have made their presence known and questioned the growing sentiment as anti-Semitic. Some have started their own pages in response.

The debate between the two communities is widespread that common ground has yet to be reached. Those opposed to ultra-orthodox community growing in Rockland cite high welfare needs and quality of life issues. Members of the Hasidic community like public figure Aron Weider have said that it is the perception of the Hasidim is wrong and that members of the community pay taxes just like everyone else.

Weider says the Medicaid numbers are actually lower in areas such as Monsey than in other parts of the county.

In March 2015, OJPAC (Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council), a group that Yossi Gestetner and Benny Polaseck helm, released a video called, ‘A Jew in Rockland’, the video asserted that many secular Jewish felt Rockland County was reminiscent of early Nazi, Germany.

‘Take Rockland Back’ posted a Youtube video of Hasidic member Yossi Gestetner speaking publically at Ramapo Central School district last week with the title “Medicaid Army threatens to invade Ramapo Central School District, not East Ramapo.” Many angry comments were made and statements of voting against the bloc vote to stop them from overthrowing Ramapo Central. In the video, Gestetner alleges that it was East Ramapo’s fault for not listening to the needs of their group and not funding for their children’s bussing for private schools in the past.

These private Jewish schools, called Yeshivas, have been the subject of State-mandated fire inspections to ensure safety for all students, faculty, and responding emergency personnel. County Executive Ed Day and Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski have been championing these fire re-inspections as a safety must last week.

Adding fuel to the political fire, The Journal News editorial board published their opinion of County Executive Ed Day’s announcement of yeshiva re-inspection.  The Journal News opined Ed Day’s “ramped-up rhetoric — including accusations of anti-Semitism and Rockland County Executive Ed Day’s tone-deaf reactions — do not help an already tense situation. The county executive needs to show political leadership and sensitivity… Instead, he crowed things like “They are acquiescing to our command” and “We got what we wanted without giving in,” sending a message of communities at war,” concluded the local newspaper.

To add to the backdrop of mounting tensions, County is experiencing unforeseen financial trouble due to failed Jewish buyer Shalom Braunstein on his $31 million bid for the Summit Park Facility in Pomona. Rockland County filed a lawsuit and Bruenstein filed a countersuit in April.

Now the County Exec wants to sell the County’s ailing Sain Building for $4.51 million.  Many following the money trail are left question why County Legislature Chairman Alden Wolfe (D-Montebello) is holding up the sale of the Sain Building, a property he has declared a “knockdown” in an effort to auction off another portion of the county’s Pomona property.

Both communities are left to wonder, with all these differences, is there any way to bridge this great divide?





A reprint of a letter found in mailbox soliciting property in East Ramapo School District. Courtesy of Rockland Strong Facebook page

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