Just My Opinion
A number of people have asked my opinion on the eruv application/controversy in Westhampton. Here it is.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, the eruv issue concerns a group of Orthodox Jews wishing to build a nearly invisible border around Westhampton using what is essentially fishing line. The border would represent a religious boundary known as an eruv.
I want to be as clear about this as possible—I do not like or support, in anyway shape or form, the construction of an eruv in Westhampton. I think it is a horribly dividing and absolutely combative issue in Westhampton that has caused nothing but embarrassment and conflict.
Full disclosure on my religious beliefs and upbringing. My father is Jewish. The only religious ceremony that I’ve ever been part of in my life is a Jewish bris. My mother is Catholic. I attended Catholic school in Sag Harbor growing up, and I feel like I am both religions. I feel very comfortable attending church on a Sunday and frequently do, and I feel very comfortable attending temple and celebrating Jewish holidays. I consider following any organized religion that promotes the importance of being kind and good to your fellow man and to yourself as one of the healthiest things a person can do—as long as you don’t get radical about it.
The eruv is a big problem for me, because this does not appear to be about religious freedom, in my opinion, but about borders.
Borders are not just physical walls or signs in society. They are also very much psychological. Borders, no matter how small a sign represents them, are extremely powerful. The same is true for symbols, flags and colors that all represent something. They let you know whether you are in or whether you are out, and where you stand with the group erecting the borders.
One of the greatest things about America is our flag. But it is not the beauty of the flag that is so genius; it’s the very thing that it represents—freedom. No matter who you are, where you are from, you can feel American when you see our flag, because our nation, by its very foundation, represents that all people are created equal and that our country is the home of the free, no matter what you look like or where you are from.
But borders or symbols within our own country divide us. Can you imagine the outcry if suddenly a bunch of Catholics got together and declared that they legally wanted to be able to paint a small, white circle, 1 inch in diameter, along every street sign in Westhampton because it represented to Catholics a reminder to go to Church on Sunday?
Can you imagine how dividing it would be if the Masons declared that a triangle, 1 inch in size, were to be painted underneath every public park bench because they declared that they were not allowed to sit down on public benches unless they had a triangle painted underneath them, and that it was their right to do so?
Can you imagine the divide that would be caused if all of a sudden a group of atheists declared that they wanted to legally be allowed, and the public to recognize, an atheist border that surrounded Westhampton that let them know that they could celebrate no religion in that “zone?”
Borders and symbols, no matter how small, no matter how imaginary, and no matter how “invisible,” matter when they are recognized by large groups of people and stand on publicly-owned land. They send a message that says to the community, if you are within this area, then you are pressured to be a certain way.
Yes, it may be a small pressure, but it’s a pressure nonetheless, and it’s wrong to make public places feel that way on public land in America. We are a nation that is free, and it’s a requirement of all of us to share in that understanding, and we should care when new borders or rules say to the public, “This group of people can do something but this group cannot.”
The argument that the eruv should be allowed because it is so small and is no big deal is invalid, because obviously, it is a big deal to the entire community of Westhampton.
This eruv proposal is nothing else but something that further divides us as a community, and the further we divide ourselves from each other, the less free we become, the less helpful we become to one another and the more combative we become to one another. And when it really comes down to it, nobody wants that.
I really hope that if you’ve read this, you’ve given it some rational and calm thought and I encourage you to comment.