On Thursday, April 09, 2015, Democrat Legislator Meyers was interviewed on the Rockland radio program ‘The Morning Show’ by Steve Possell and Meredyth Glover. Meyers was very blunt in his comments about the situation with the growing Hasidic community in Rockland County.
This is a partial transcript of the interview:
MR. STEVE POSSELL: … that video of ‘The Jew in Rockland‘, obviously very controversial, and I’m looking forward to hearing your take on this whole thing.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Right. Well, yeah, I actually only looked at the video a couple of days ago because somebody at the gym told me I was in it. So I might have heard about it, I’d read other people’s opinion of it. So I did get a chance to look at it and I was just ‑‑ I gave like a little talk at the Legislature on Tuesday night about it because it’s diverting us away from what the real issue is.
The real issue is not anti‑Semitism in Rockland County or hateful comments which occasionally appear on social media because unfortunately the nature of social media in a democratic society is that people could publish anonymously ugly comments. The real issue in Rockland County is how do the secular community and the Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidic communities come to some sort of, if not harmony together, some sort of understanding and coexistence together. And that is something that they have never wanted to talk about.
When Aron Weider was first elected, I suggested to him that we hold a series of talks around the County where people could participate and where the religious community and the secular community could come together, express their frustrations and their concerns, and see if we could have some sort of commonality, some sort of meeting of the minds. He didn’t want to do it. He said that his community did not trust us and they were not ready to sit down and have such meetings.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Why?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: I don’t know. You know, we can’t even meet? It was strange. I think the thing that ‑‑ you know, he was elected from a group including the Southeast Taxpayers Association that’s connected with the takeover of the East Ramapo School District. And they’re hardliners. They want what they want and they have ‑‑ they think they have the votes, or at least they used to think they had the votes to get what they wanted and why should they have to compromise, why should they have to make it appear like they’re caving in to other interests. I don’t know.
And that’s one of the things that we really need to talk about in Rockland County. The fear and consternation among the secular community regarding the Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidic communities is real and it’s based on some very real goals and interests of the secular versus the religious community that need to be addressed.
For example, they don’t use the public schools which gives them grave concern about property taxes that they’re not getting the benefit of; whereas, the tradition in America is towards public schools and property taxes that support public schools. So that’s a very fundamental difference that needs to be addressed.
Also, they tend to have large families. That’s part of the religious precept and that puts tremendous financial pressure on those families which can often lead to government assistance. I’m not saying ever Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidic family gets government assistance or engages in Medicaid fraud or anything like that, but there is a perception in the community, the secular community which has to be addressed that there is an awful lot of that sort of thing going on.
And then since they cannot drive motor vehicles on the Sabbath, they need to walk to a house of worship, which means a house of worship needs to be located nearby, which we’ve seen in Airmont. And that’s part of the history of Airmont, that these home houses of worship, which can have 100, 150 people praying in them several times a week, pop up in residential communities, oftentimes every couple of blocks. And people have to live near them and they need a lot of people to live near them to support these houses of worship, which means that they need to move into a community and get a certain volume to support a house of worship.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Yeah.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: And the real estate brokers and the leaders in this community are very aggressive about knocking on doors of secular families, offering them all cash to move. And I now live in a community that has become mostly very religious and I get knocked on the door all the time from people offering to buy my house. And, Steve, and Meredyth, I don’t know if you’re on the line ‑‑
MS. MEREDYTH GLOVER: Um‑hum.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: ‑‑ can you imagine, I don’t know where you live, your neighbors knocking on your door, telling you that they have a friend that what’s to buy your house?
MR. STEVE POSSELL: (Jokingly) Okay. Sold. Oh. I’m sorry.
MS. MEREDYTH GLOVER: No, I ‑‑ I don’t know.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Let me ask you, do you live ‑‑ is your district ‑‑ is Spring Valley a part of your district?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: No, it’s not. I do have part, a small part ‑‑
MR. STEVE POSSELL: And I only ask you that, I ask you that because a lady called off the air and said, how do you feel about Spring Valley taxes being raised 23 percent. And I told her ‑‑ or I didn’t tell her, I’ll tell her now, I think that’s kind of out of your jurisdiction or out of your domain, but do you happen to know if that’s true?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Well, I could tell you this. I own a two‑family house in Spring Valley and I got a notice from the Spring Valley Assessor that my taxes are doubling, that my assessment is doubling. So I’m very concerned about it. But I don’t know what’s going on in Spring Valley in terms of finances. It’s probably something similar to Suffern where they have just overspent over the years and need the money. But I don’t know the details.
Who can support a 23 percent tax increase? What that tells you immediately and, Steve, you and I have talked about this before, that the politicians that were in charge did not do what they were supposed to do. They didn’t steer the Ship of State steadily. They played politics. They tried to not raise taxes in election years. They didn’t move on a forward … path and then suddenly all hell broke loose and now they need to raise a ton of money. I mean, it happened at the County level. We had a tax increase of 2 percent and then the next year we had a tax increase of 25 percent. That can only happen if people are being incompetent. Right?
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Yeah. But going back to the original premise, the rancor and the discontent between various groups …………. (Interview continued for several minutes in discussion about State Legislature) ………….
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Now it’s anti‑Semitic. And I hate the co‑mingling of anti‑Semitism when all we’re really talking about, at its worst, would be animosity towards the Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidic communities. I’m a reformed Jew. We’re not ‑‑ they want to frame it in terms of the secular community is against Jewish people. No. I’m Jewish and I don’t feel threatened by the concerns that are being raised. So it’s not against the entire Jewish community. It’s against ‑‑ it’s concern, it’s fear, it’s upsetness against the policies that are pursued and are sought by the Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidic communities in Rockland County. Not the entire Jewish community.
But that doesn’t mean that they’re not entitled to live as they want to live, which concerns people because part of it is a separateness, part of it is inward looking into their own interests in their own community which is somewhat inconsistent with the Melting Pot history of the United States. Nevertheless, they’re entitled to do it, to live any way they wish. But you shouldn’t ‑‑ if you do live that way and if you are inward looking and focus only on your own community, you should not expect that that isn’t going to give rise to concerns and fears that need to be addressed, discussed, resolved, and dealt with. You can’t just scream anti‑Semitism every time there is distrust and fear and resentment. You have to deal with it.
And the ‘Aron Weiders’ of the world just want to say, ah‑hah, anti‑Semitism. It’s like Jerry Seinfeld’s uncle on Seinfeld. You know, an anti‑Semite, you know, anybody who’s ‑‑ say a cook, if a cook at the restaurant brings in soup that’s cold, ah, an anti‑Semite. You can’t do it that way. It’s not a winning strategy.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: No because those of you ‑‑ for example, you say you’re a reformed Jew. That has a bearing on you because if they say anti‑Semite, you’re collectively spoken of and you have disagreements with that particular sect.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Well, I support that sect’s fundamental right to live as they want to live. But when it comes down to policies and when it comes down to communities, I have concerns. And my concerns need to be addressed.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: We used to have liaisons in years past. I don’t know how long you’ve been in Rockland, but I remember a guy when I was at the other radio station, he’s passed now, Sam Weissmandl, and he really ‑‑ you talk about a liaison who could talk to the community at large about the situation with the Hasidim, and it really smoothed a lot of things over because of his outward attempts to, you know, make people try to understand and to even offer some conciliation at times. I don’t know if you recall him. I had a lot of respect for him.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: No. It must have been before my time. But Ed Day, in his County Executive’s Corner a few days ago, said that he was going to start some sort of initiative. I don’t know if you remember, but back a few election cycles ago when Chris St. Lawrence built up his hope of getting some secular votes, after he was re‑elected he was going to have a series of conciliatory meetings open to the public for the Ultra‑Orthodox and Hasidim and secular community to come together. He had one such meeting in Suffern. Only the secular community, only members of the secular community public came. No religious people came. And when I raised my hand and said, where’s the religious community, he said, oh, well, this meeting was in Suffern. Maybe they didn’t want to travel all the way to Suffern. You know.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Well, direct face‑to‑face, voice‑to‑voice communication is ‑‑
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: We desperately need that. I’ve been doing this for a while and I’ve actually come to believe, and I don’t mean to be defeatist about it, in my own mind, the leaders of those communities, they don’t want to meet, they don’t want any compromise. They want what they want. They feel they need the things that they need, their population is growing, eventually the secular people will move away and they’ll have everything, and so why would they want to compromise? Why would they want to sit down and try to, you know, to broker something that could work?
You know when the brokers keep knocking on my door asking me if I want to sell, one of the brokers said, but I will get you a house anywhere you want. I will find you a house anywhere you want. You just tell me where you want to go and I will help you find a house. I said, okay. You can list my house. I want you to find me a house in New Square.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: You’re playing an exaggeration game, right? You’re not kidding me, are you?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: No. I said this to him. And he laughed and he said, okay, okay, let me know when you’re ready to sell. I can’t buy a house in New Square. If somebody from New Square wants to buy a house next to you, all holy hell will be raised if they think that there’s any attempt to stop them from buying a house next to you, but you can’t buy a house in New Square.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Your scenario of the secular community ultimately moving away, is that a little hyperbole there? Or do you think that that could conceivably occur in the next decade or two?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: In the next two decades, I believe that that is what will occur. And then the economic tax base, you know, will be shattered.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Well, that was my question. Will the infrastructure, the economic infrastructure of the County be able to sustain itself?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: No, of course not.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: So then what happens then?
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: It can sustain it in certain parts of New York City because we’re talking about a city of 7 million people. Rockland County will become a ward of the state. And this is not hyperbole. Remember, I’m from Airmont, you know, and the religious community is growing in Airmont and you have neighborhoods where no secular people will buy in those neighborhoods because they know the direction those neighborhoods are going in. And that just spreads throughout. Perfectly legal. Anyone in America is entitled to buy a house anywhere they want. And that’s the way it goes.
But it’s a ‑‑ it’s not just a situation where neighborhoods change. I mean, you did find that. The neighborhood that I grew up in Queens was Italian and Jewish. Right now, it’s Indian and Pakistani. Neighborhoods do change. But this is so much more than that in the way that people are urged to leave once the religious community starts moving in. That’s wrong. You know, the shuls popping up on every corner is wrong and not consistent with residential communities. It’s just a situation that cries out for some discussion and intervention by citizens on both sides that want to come to some kind of understanding.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: I hope that happens because, I mean, the ultimate scenario, which I don’t even want to think about, I mean, you’d lose your volunteer fire services. That would raise taxes exponentially. I mean, it’s a very, very ugly scenario that if ‑‑
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Well, I don’t know what services you use. I have noticed, not so much in the fire services, but at least in the ambulance corps, I see many religious people volunteering for the ambulance corps. I do. So I don’t know that that community is not willing to participate in those public service activities at least for their own community. And perhaps beyond. I don’t know.
But what will happen ‑‑ you already see some anomalies, like in Ramapo when the voters overwhelmingly turned down paying for a stadium with long‑term bonds, you have a town supervisor who can still build a stadium with short‑term bonds and get re‑elected. Where could that happen anywhere in America but in Ramapo? Anywhere else, that politician would be tarred and feathered and run out of town. Because he can get the religious community to vote for him because of other things that he gives them, he no longer has to answer to the people.
I don’t think people outside of Ramapo really understand how we don’t really have a democratic government in the Town of Ramapo. They’re starting to understand thanks to what’s been going on in the East Ramapo School District. People understand that issue. And that is why you have people elected like Ed Day because people outside of Ramapo who have not seen the growth of the religious communities in their neighborhoods yet, they still understand what’s happening in East Ramapo and they know that it’s fundamentally wrong that people would take over a school district who don’t send their children there and then deny minority students a fair education. They get that.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: Legislator Joe Meyers, we’re just about at the top of the hour. It was a quite rivetting discussion this morning.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Okay. Have a good day.
MR. STEVE POSSELL: We look forward to you joining us again, sir.
LEGISLATOR MEYERS: Sure. Bye‑bye.