Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Forum brings secular and Hasidic communities together 

For the first time in many years, the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission and the Sullivan County Legislature held an open forum to discuss community and Orthodox/Hasidic relations.

The purpose of the session, held Monday at the county government center in Monticello, was to prepare the greater Sullivan community for the 250,000 plus, Orthodox and Hasidic visitors who will come to the county for the summer, as they always do. The forum created an atmosphere where residents, representatives of the Jewish communities and elected officials, could put their concerns out in the open for discussion.

Bill Liblick, a Sullivan County human rights commissioner, said after former County Legislator Jodi Goodman introduced a committee for better relations between the Jewish and greater community years ago, no such committee, or forum, has existed.

"It died out and what I wanted to do, as a Human Rights commissioner, is to try to bring everyone together, to bring people together and to discuss issues," said Liblick. "Some people don't understand the Hasidic/Orthodox community because they look different, or they dress different. They have different customs and what we wanted to do on the Human Rights Commission is to show that everyone is a human being, and to address certain issues, and to try to bring people together."

Issues discussed Monday centered on public health, community cleanliness, public safety, traffic safety, unilateral tax exemption misconceptions and noise issues. Each topic was discussed very briefly due to there being no voiced disagreements. Each issue was met amicably to both the members of the greater Sullivan community who attended and the representatives from the Jewish communities. 

Rabbi Bernard Freilich, a senior representative for the Jewish community and liaison to the superintendent of the New York State Police, said the seasonal Jewish visitors, as well as the yearlong Jewish residents, wish only to get along with their neighbors and to be acknowledged for the benefits they bring to the community, rather than being acknowledged for their differences.

"Again, our community is here, and we understand that we are guests here, but we do put in a lot of money into the communities building a lot of houses, hopefully it'll be year round, especially in the Town of Fallsburg and some other towns," said Freilich. "Whatever we do, we definitely want to do it together and with an understanding of our neighbors, an understanding of government and with law enforcement."

There are still some issues regarding whether or not the current infrastructure in the Town of Fallsburg can handle the development the Jewish community wishes to embark upon there; but, those issues were not discussed at the forum.

Sullivan County Sheriff Michael Schiff said the public should be aware of the visitors and when driving, to do so defensively, just as would be recommended for any known population increase to the area. As far as issues that may arise between the Jewish and surrounding Sullivan communities, Schiff said the place to start when trying to prevent those issues is with a dialogue, like the one that was rekindled at the forum.

"I have found that we've done that in different groups, when you open up a dialogue, most of the problems go away. It's just a matter of sitting down and talking, getting rid of the misconceptions, and asking for help on both sides," he said. "When different communities can work with us, they can take of problems on their end to make them go away, and where we can, we work with them to make things safer for them. So, just starting the dialogue, I think they've done a very good thing."

Schiff also asks Sullivan residents to try and resolve any issues that may arise between themselves and the Jewish community with their Jewish neighbors first, before escalating a situation to the point of police involvement because in his own experience, the Jewish community has always been very cooperative when it comes to compromising with the members of surrounding communities.

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