2009-06-26 / Letters

Save Derech Emunoh

Dear Editor,

I have been reading in your paper about the developers of the Arverne area and the amounts of taxpayer's money handed over to them to develop phase two. I call that a gift, and if it wasn't enough of a gift to hand them over 308 acres of waterfront property for pennies on the dollar now they have their hands extended for even more gifts. Why not? How much dole did they bilk the public out of for phase one? They keep going back to the through and lo and behold there's always a politician to throw a bone or two in there for them to wallow in. Not to mention that phase one is in complete violation of the coastal zone management act of 1972. The main ingredient in that coastal law is that you cannot block public access and visual corridors to the water on EXISTING streets. The developers of phase one built over the streets to create a private gated community. Now the people living on the bay side of the development have to go around in circles to get to the beach. What a joke on the long time residents of the area?

The developers are stepping on the necks of anyone getting in their way of their illegal development. I had an occasion to witness a stomping and it was, and still is disgusting. I was out at Costco shopping one day last week. I met a woman and she was grocery shopping for the synagogue in the trailer on Beach 67 Street. The last remnants of the 104 year old Derech Emunoh synagogue in Rockaway. How well I remember the evening the last fire was in that synagogue. The firemen were up on the roof hosing down the last kindle, and it didn't look like a major fire, at least to me. What really struck me was what was happening the following day. The bulldozers were knocking it down and crunching it up and removing it in trucks. Imagine the developer being able to get a permit overnight to do that. What's that old saying about a bridge in Brooklyn? Back to the grocery woman. I offered to help her unload the groceries and carry them to the synagogue in the trailer since it was on my way back anyway.

She opened a lock on a chain link gate over a narrow cement walkway to the trailer. As I walked on the path I immediately noticed the fill, or one can call it dirt, on the right was about shoulder high all the way along the walkway and around the other end of the trailer. Looking at it again it looked like the trailer was in a hole, and it was. The developer had pushed the dirt all the way up to the path. "What is this all about?" I asked. "The developer wants us out," she said, and she added, "Now." "Well they are going to move you guys to another site in Arverne," I said. "No they want us out of the Arverne area entirely," she said. Is that what Rockaway has become? Forcing the last remnants of a historical house of worship out of existence. Stepping on their necks like some sort of a nuisance, or cockroach.

As a local resident of Rockaway Beach for close to fifty years I am outraged. How could something like this be happening under our eyes? How could the developers of Arverne after getting all the gifts, not find it in their hearts to give this little group of local worshipers a couple of acres to plop their trailer on and continue with the work of Derech Emunoh. It's history for God's sake, not because it's Jewish. It's Rockaway history. We cannot as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or any religion stand by with our heads in the sand and ignore this. Lets get organized and stop " it now. This little group of worshipers are too small to fight further. They need help, and they need it now. I am calling on all religions in Rockaway to do something good for Rockaway and save our history. We have a saying in the theatre. "Don't tell me. Show me." I realize that the city made a deal with Derech Emunoh back in the late sixties or early seventies and most likely paid them for the property. And the city promised to build in the area at the time, therefore giving false hope to Derech Emunoh to get organized and build another synagogue in the area to suit the population of Jewish worshipers. The city can say that Derech Emunoh reneged on their promise, but so did the city with one big difference. Derech Emunoh held on all those years doing good things while the city sat on their hands for more than forty years doing nothing.

Many years ago there was a meeting at Baruch College in reference to the development of Arverne. Reverend Floyd Flake spoke. When he was told that the city had taken property in Arverne illegally he put it this way, "That was then and this is now." If Reverend Flake can use those words so can Derech Emunoh. There is a nice little brick building still standing in the Arverne area, and that building at one time belonged to the synagogue. Let them have it with enough space around it to park 50 cars. That is not asking for too much from the developer after reading all the gifts he is receiving at the expense of the taxpayers. Too much of Rockaway's history has fell to the bulldozers. We can stop this one if we ban together. Let's do it.

JOHN BAXTER

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