Friday, March 15, 2013
Thousands of black plastic bags filled with Jewish religious artifacts line a dirt road in the woods near where Larry Simons lives.
Nearby, 10 tractor-trailers sit filled with the bags, recently unearthed from their burial ground. The bags are part of an Orthodox Jewish custom known as shaimos, where Jewish books and other sacred objects that are no longer of use must be buried.
"The whole thing troubles me because, one, I am Jewish," the 76-year-old Simons said, as he walked passed the piles of bags. "As a Jewish person, I do not like to be denigrated. But when (I see) what I perceive as an abuse ... of the law, it bothers me."
What concerns Simons, and the state Department of Environmental Protection, is that these bags were buried illegally in the woods in Jackson and Lakewood. A state Superior Court judge ordered the rabbi overseeing the site, Chaim Abadi, to remove the bags. But nearly a year later, Abadi is still searching for a new location for the artifacts -- while the bags, and the fines, keep mounting.
"I don't know where I am going to put it. I guess the DEP will find out by following me around to see where it will go," said Abadi, who faces thousands of dollars in fines for missing deadlines to move the items.
Starting in 2009, Abadi has filled two burial sites in Jackson and Lakewood, a warehouse in Farmingdale and several tractor-trailers with shaimos.
After Simons, a resident of a nearby senior community, and other residents called the DEP to alert them to the illegal landfill, a court case ensued. Abadi was ordered to remove the buried artifacts in 2012 and place them on property he owns in Lakewood.
Only there was too much shaimos, leaving Abadi still looking for a new burial site. The Ocean County landfill has offered Abadi space, but so far, he has yet to accept.
So now, options for burying the shaimos are dwindling. The city of Jackson fined him $10,000 in February and the state reserves the right -- but has yet to impose -- fines of $1,000 a day for noncompliance.
Between Purim and Passover, Jews discard shaimos and pay a rabbi typically between $10 and $30 per bag for the proper burial, religious authorities said. The DEP ordered Abadi to stop collecting shaimos until his cleanup work is complete and he is in compliance with county and state authorities.
The DEP is stepping on Jewish culture, Abadi said.
"There are many customs," Abadi said. "We don't ask questions as to why and what. Someone gives us something to bury, we bury it."
Years ago, people had very little shaimos and were able to easily store writings about God because books and materials were made by hand. But today, teaching materials, printouts and anything with God's name is considered shaimos, increasing the volume of materials, said Rabbi Yosef Schwartz of Monroe, N.Y. The buried materials raise environmental concerns because ink used in the print can leach into water sources -- a problem with shaimos that reaches beyond Lakewood, he said.
Abadi collected and buried shaimos in Jackson in 2009 and Lakewood in 2010. State and county officials and some local residents, chief among them Simons, took exception to the burial sites. In April 2012, Abadi and his co-defendants agreed to a court-imposed 60-day deadline to remove the shaimos from the two landfills and bury them in a state-approved site, according to the agreement.
After Abadi missed his first deadline, Superior Court Judge Craig Wellerson on Sept. 28 amended the April deadline and issued new ones. The state is yet to impose fines while reserving the right to penalize the rabbi. The greater concern is cleaning up the properties, officials said.
Abadi's shaimos-filled trailers are parked in a lot in Lakewood, plus more lay in thousands of bags -- enough to cover a quarter of a football field. The work to date has cost Abadi and his synagogue and co-defendant, Congregation Minyan Shelanu Inc., about $150,000, he said.
"As you know, the Ocean County landfill remains willing to work with you to accept the shaimos material and arrange for its disposition in a respectful manner. You are strongly encouraged to further explore this option," the DEP said in a Jan. 31 status letter. Abadi has not said what he will choose but hopes to find a new location that is close by to avoid costs in hauling the material away.
If the county landfill will work with Abadi, Schwartz said it might be best to get the matter settled. Abadi, like Schwartz, had applied to have one of his properties declared a cemetery after he had buried the materials. He did not receive the zoning change he requested.
Abadi has an excellent opportunity to enlighten the secular and Jewish community about the problems of shaimos, Schwartz said. Beth Genizah, a shaimos cemetery in Liberty, N.Y., is overseen by the local council of rabbis, which purchased more than 12 acres specifically for shaimos.
The property is going through all the permitting processes in New York and has received praise from Jewish lawmakers there, Schwartz said. He suggested Lakewood find a similar way to bury shaimos as the growing Orthodox community is large enough to support one.
"Perhaps a spot in an industrial-type park," Schwartz said.
Beth Genizah will be collecting shaimos in New York and in Lakewood, the website states.
Shaimos is a difficult subject for the secular world to understand, Schwartz said. Even some Jews could use a lesson on what exactly constitutes shaimos. It could help reduce the amounts needed to be buried.
But Larry Simons said he is not going to give up.
"I plan to contact DEP and ask them what is going on," he said last week. "We have contacted the DEP two to three dozen times among the various members of our group who have been checking on this."
Comments: Post a Comment