Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Kiryas Joel is a small village of about 23,000 people in Orange County, New York. Further defined, it is a municipality within a municipality much like so many other villages in the state. New York, unlike neighboring New Jersey, doesn’t just nestle one town next to another. Instead of Mahwah (one town) bordering Ramsey (another town) and Franklin Lakes (another town) in New Jersey, any given New York “town” could have a town within the town, a city within the town, and a village or two and/or a hamlet or two all within that same town. Sound confusing? Well it is.

Layers and layers of bureaucracy and politics plague New York as a direct result of this unnecessary municipal structure, serving up a recipe of “red tape” and “patronage” on steroids. Residents suffer additional tax burdens. Heightened quarrels erupt over municipal services, education and the division of property. And it is a lightning rod for brutal in-fighting among “town” residents, who may have one overall town supervisor overseeing the varied villages/hamlets/town/city, and then a few individual mayors. Who gets more pieces of the pie? And why?

Those who live in Kiryas Joel, which is a village within the Town of Monroe, want more, but others who reside in the town (some from the Village of Monroe and the Village of Harriman) don’t want to provide it. Perhaps, given the lunacy inherent in this municipal structure, it is understandable why the Harriman and Monroe village persons are adverse to turning over more of that desired pie, but the tactics – and the message spread by the opposition – is unfair and, in many manners, inaccurate. More so, the decision sought against the Kiryas Joel residents who seek land annexation can be summed up in one legal word: unconstitutional.

Kiryas Joel is unlike nearly every other municipality in New York; it’s unlike nearly every other in the country. For starters, it is comprised of virtually one type of people – meaning there is almost no ethnic/religious diversity whatsoever. Almost one hundred percent of the Kiryas Joel residents are Hasidic Jews; even more constrained, they are Hasidic Jews who are part of the Satmar Hasidic dynasty. English is not the first language of the vast majority of these people – it is Yiddish that they primarily speak at home. Their uniformity is not limited to language. Their dress, hairstyles, and style of living are fundamentally identical. Mostly, they live in town house/condo type homes built on small parcels of property, in a very close-knit community. Their attire is plain, notably men wearing white dress shirts with dark pants; women adorn long dresses.

Family sizes are large – an average of 6 – 7 immediate family members per household. It is not unusual for a couple to have 10 or more children. Divorce is practically non-existent.

Critics of Kiryas Joel argue that its poverty rate is the highest in New York, if not the nation. And that their usage of food stamps is also at the top level. Yet, there are no homeless people on the streets and there is virtually no crime in Kiryas Joel. Kids apparently don’t even play hooky.

These oddities, as many find them – or just differences in culture as all should view them – are the backdrop for the plight of those who seek annexation of property on behalf of Kiryas Joel. The spin doctors who oppose their annexation request have cleverly attacked it at its core—they have redefined, to the public, what the legal word “annexation” means in this circumstance. They have misled the public into thinking that Kiryas Joel residents are seeking something that they are not; they have weaved a tale that Kiryas Joel is attempting to seize land that is not owned by them. That Kiryas Joel is attempting some twisted form of eminent domain to overtake property that is not theirs. This is false.

Kiryas Joel is indeed seeking to “annex” property from the Town of Monroe. Very specifically, the village is asking for an annexation of a 507 acre parcel of land. The Town of Monroe, by a 4 to 1 governing body vote in September, permitted a 164 acre annexation instead. The village is appealing that decision in the New York appellate courts.


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