Even before its formal incorporation as a municipality, the town of Airmont in Rockland County, New York has sought to keep Orthodox Jews from moving in by manipulating its zoning laws to make their lives difficult. Hiram Sasser, who has represented local Jews’ anti-discrimination claims in court, writes:
Airmont was born in bigotry. In the mid-1980s, an organization called the Airmont Civic Association (ACA) pushed for [its] incorporation, which came in 1991. Almost immediately, the federal government filed suit against the new town, alleging it had been formed for the purpose of excluding Jewish citizens through zoning restrictions on their places of worship.
In 1987, legal testimony revealed that ACA’s original president, James Filenbaum, had openly stated that “the reason [for] forming this village is to keep people like you out of this neighborhood.” He was directing his comments toward Jews.
Over the past several months, attorneys . . . who have been investigating claims of discrimination by Airmont’s Orthodox Jewish residents confirmed that, indeed, village officials are up to their intolerant tricks again. In fact, their zoning ordinances, approval process, and associated fines are so egregious, it will likely take multiple lawsuits to sort through them fully. . . .
One, filed this week, seeks to recover the thousands [of dollars] rabbis have spent trying to get permission to pray with others in their own home, along with punitive damages to prevent this [kind of discrimination] from happening again. The other, filed late last month, seeks $25 million in damages from the village for the discriminatory impact its zoning scheme has had on the local school. . . . One rabbi even faced the prospect of a year in jail for simply welcoming his neighbors into his home for prayer.