Monday, July 01, 2013

East Ramapo group buys kosher in quest to 'coexist' 

They walked single-file into the bustling kosher grocery, calmly surveyed the aisles, and chose their items.

A bag of potato chips. A bottle of water. One by one, they lined up at the cash registers, made their purchases and stepped aside quietly.

Busy with their shopping, Hasidic men and women in conservative dress paused to eye the group of 25 local activists — black, white, young, old, wearing shorts and T-shirts and jeans — and wondered what was happening. A few minutes later, the disgruntled store owner appeared, tried to block news photographers' cameras and steered the demonstrators toward the door.

"You have no right to do this. Get out of here," he said.

The "stop and shop" demonstration Friday afternoon at Rockland Kosher Supermarket off Route 306 was the kickoff event by a new group called Wake Up Rockland.

Organizers said their purpose is to "combat the growing phenomenon of de facto segregation" between Hasidic and non-Hasidic communities in Rockland County, specifically in the East Ramapo Central School District.

"We're basically saying to the Hasidic community that we are here and we're not going anywhere, so it behooves both of us to coexist," said the Rev. Weldon McWilliams IV, who organized the demonstration. "But the way things are, we can't coexist."

The community divide in East Ramapo has deepened in the last year as the district has slashed the public school budget while for the most part maintaining services for its unusually large private school population. The school board is controlled by Orthodox and Hasidic men who send their children to private Jewish yeshivas.

About 400 public school parents and activists say their children's civil rights have been violated and are suing those board members because, they claim, elected officials have steered public money to private yeshivas and segregated special-education students. The district has denied the claims and is moving to dismiss the lawsuit.

McWilliams said the small act of patronizing a business that caters to thousands of Hasidic residents in the Monsey area was meant to show that people of different religions and races can and should live together peacefully.


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