Two Towns, Different Counties—Same Agenda?

Kiryas Joel’s “welcome mat” comes with many rules and regulations in the religious village.

By Kathy Kahn

What little is left of the original bucolic Town of Ramapo and its tattered school district, East Ramapo, is a scenario that may be the same fate of a municipality in neighboring Orange County.

In 1977, the Town of Monroe permitted an all-Satmar Hasidic Village to be created within the town’s borders, Kiryas Joel (Village of Joel), named for its Grand Rabbi, Joel Teitelbaum. Most of the village’s children attend private yeshivas, but those who were physically or intellectually handicapped were sent to the secular school district of Monroe-Woodbury.

That didn’t sit well with KJ residents, so a late-night provision in former Gov. Mario Cuomo’s approved budget in 1989 allowed the Village of Kiryas Joel to form its own school district. That move, challenged in court by Louis Gromet of the NYS Education Department and deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, was tweaked continually by Cuomo’s successors, including his son, Andrew Cuomo, and has helped the Ultra-Orthodox community flex its muscle in Albany, voting en masse for candidates who support their agenda.

In 2017, members of a grassroots group, United Monroe, carved an agreement out with Kiryas Joel to let it become the Town of Palm Tree, annexing dozens of acres into the new municipality in exchange for a pledge not to seek to form another village in the decade ahead and changing the boundaries of the Monroe-Woodbury School District.

With November mid-term elections coming up, Cuomo and legislators pushed the date for the creation of the town up from January 2020 to January 2019—perhaps to ensure the players who are running again this November will be re-elected with the help of the Hasidic “bloc” vote in Rockland, Orange and New York City.

However, before the ink even dries on a new sign for the Town of Palm Tree, 500 residents who own contiguous parcels totaling 1.7 miles of land in the Town of Monroe are petitioning to form another all-Hasidic municipality, the Village of Seven Springs.

The owners of Harriman Commons, which straddles Monroe and Harriman and its big-box tenants, including Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target and Best Buy, are now petitioning the Town of Monroe to be included in its boundaries, so as not to be included in the proposed new village. (There is already a large yeshiva and a gated Satmar playground on Larkin Drive further down the service road that brings shoppers to the mega-mall.)

Since Monroe’s Town Board has to have a public referendum to allow another village to form within its borders, one would hope, if the Hasidic petition is granted, voting will be held after the village of Kiryas Joel is dissolved, thus permitting Monroe residents to weigh in without having KJ’s “bloc” vote making the decision for them.