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KIRYAS JOEL, N.Y. -- For some longtime combatants, it had nearly the sweep and significance of an announcement that a hard-won Middle East peace agreement was finally at hand.

Kiryas Joel, a village in a corner of New York's Orange County that is home to more than 20,000 Hasidic Jews, gained its independence from the town of Monroe, N.Y. -- an amicable divorce that was overwhelmingly approved by town voters on Nov. 7.

While most of the Election Day postmortems in the New York region focused on the string of Democratic victories across the area, there were ballot propositions, such as the one here, that will leave a more lasting mark.

"Today is a truly historic day that will usher in a new era of peace and stability for all the residents of Monroe," said Gedalye Szegedin, village administrator of Kiryas Joel, adding that voters had chosen "diplomacy and compromise instead of angry rhetoric and litigation."

The vote to separate Kiryas Joel from Monroe and form a new town of Palm Tree should mean an end to the conflict and lawsuits over zoning rules and other problems.

For decades, this community of Hasidic Jews about 50 miles northwest of New York lived an existence that was insular but also expansive. It was founded in the early 1970s as a semi-rural outpost of the Satmar sect in Brooklyn and has grown rapidly, creating the need for multifamily housing and more land to build that housing.

When one particularly fruitful Kiryas Joel resident, Yitta Schwartz, died in 2010 at the age of 93, she left behind some 2,000 living descendants, putting a spotlight on the sect's adherence to the idea that bearing children is a tribute to God.

Even though Kiryas Joel occupies less than 10 percent of Monroe, the village's population of 21,894 exceeds that of the rest of the town, including the unincorporated area, as well as its two other incorporated villages, Monroe village (different from the town) and Harriman.

Officials and residents in the town of Monroe have clashed with Kiryas Joel over its efforts to annex hundreds of acres of land, and to erect four-story buildings in an area where many cling to a more suburban landscape.

A few years ago, Kiryas Joel successfully annexed 164 acres of land from the unincorporated part of Monroe, but village officials had wanted much more. A nonprofit group called Preserve Hudson Valley sued over the annexation, with opponents worried about the precedent of transferring land from one municipality to another and the effects on a local aquifer.

But last summer, Preserve Hudson Valley and Kiryas Joel entered into a legal settlement that set the stage for the vote on Election Day.

Under the settlement between Kiryas Joel and Preserve Hudson Valley, the village agreed to drop an earlier campaign to annex more than 500 acres of land while the group agreed to drop its appeal of the town's approval of the 164-acre annexation. Instead, the village will annex 56 more acres, for about 220. And Kiryas Joel agreed not to acquire any more land for at least 10 years.

Turnout was heavy on Election Day and the proposition passed with more than 80 percent of the vote. The new town of Palm Tree, which will officially come into existence in 2020, derives its name from Grand Rabbi Joel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Hasidic leader who founded the village of Kiryas Joel. The name "Teitelbaum" means "date palm" in Yiddish, and the palm tree is used as a logo for Satmar groups.

Under the new government structure, the borders of Palm Tree will be the same as those of Kiryas Joel, along with the 56 new acres. Only a handful of towns and villages in New York state have conterminous boundaries. Under New York state law, all villages must be contained within a town.

In a bustling shopping center here at dusk, women in ankle-length skirts and men in broad-rimmed black hats shopped for food and ran errands with children in tow. One after another, women politely refused to answer questions about the recent vote splitting Kiryas Joel from Monroe.

Finally, one passer-by -- a 55-year-old mother of 10 who asked that her name be withheld -- expressed the mindset that has led Hasidic Jews to vote as a single bloc in state and local elections. "We tend to follow the majority and they wanted it," she said, referring to village leaders in Kiryas Joel. "They know the ins and outs of the what's good for the village and so I voted for it."

The village's director of public safety, Moses Witriol, explained that there would be less friction going forward with the Hasidic community in charge of its own village and town. "Now we're on our own and they're on their own," Witriol said. "We can each have our own town and be good neighbors."

The separation of Kiryas Joel from Monroe will affect the town's finances, with a projected loss of $1.9 million in property tax revenue. But while some town residents voted against the proposition for that reason, many others, including some town officials, favored the proposal.

Tony Cardone, a town councilman who was just elected supervisor, said there was concern that the town was being eaten away through annexation. In addition, while no one from the Hasidic community was elected to the town board, there were representatives on the board in recent years who voted for the more liberal zoning rules that Kiryas Joel favored.

"Everyone has the right to buy land anywhere and run for office, but our cultural differences are what created a lot of the fears," Cardone said. "They want more of an urban lifestyle, whereas many others in town want a suburban setting with single-family homes."

Like any peace treaty, there are hints that the clashes of the past could still return. As Szegedin pointed out, the combination of the 56 new acres under the legally binding settlement from July, and the earlier 164-acre annexation, will give Kiryas Joel "10 to 12 years of housing supply." But for now, town officials say they are focused on the present.

"I feel like a weight has been lifted off our chest," Cardone said. "There was a fear that we were going to lose our town."

Religion on 11/25/2017

Print Headline: Hasidic Jews to break away from town, form their own

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