Roosevelt files to have federal lawsuit dismissed

Yeshiva official says students will return to borough soon


Roosevelt believes it has grounds to have the lawsuit that the local synagogue and yeshiva filed against it dismissed.

The borough’s special counsel, Howard Cohen, has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit with the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Borough officials said the court is scheduled to hear the matter Dec. 13 but may not render a final decision on that date.

Congregation Anshei Roosevelt and Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah filed the lawsuit Aug. 27 against the borough, its Planning Board and Zoning Board, the mayor and council, the Roosevelt Preservation Association, and certain individual members of the Planning and Zoning boards and Borough Council. The lawsuit charges that the defendants took action against the Homestead Lane synagogue and the yeshiva, which is housed in the synagogue, that were designed to restrict the religious freedom of the synagogue’s and yeshiva’s members, according to Joshua Pruzansky, executive vice president of the yeshiva.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Bruce Shoulson, of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “Officials of the borough have been involved in a systematic and deliberate campaign to keep the local synagogue from allowing its premises to be used by Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah despite the best efforts of both institutions to forge normal and neighborly relations with the approximately 900 residents who live in the borough.”

The lawsuit seeks to overturn a July 24 decision by the borough’s Planning and Zoning boards that concluded that the yeshiva’s operation on the premises of the synagogue does not comply with the borough’s zoning ordinances.

Borough officials said they cannot comment on the ongoing litigation. However, yeshiva-related issues were discussed at the council’s Nov. 14 meeting.

Homestead Lane resident Nancy Warnick told the council that her street is “heaven on earth again” because the yeshiva has not been in operation at the synagogue for almost two months.

The yeshiva began leasing the Homestead Lane synagogue in 2005 and has added another class of high school-age boys to the school each year since then. The school, which currently has approximately 40 members, started classes as usual in September but later that month stopped using the synagogue.

The lawsuit that the yeshiva and synagogue filed states, “If the yeshiva is forced to cease operating, particularly with classes now in session for the current school year, it would be nearly impossible for the yeshiva’s students to enroll in another yeshiva elsewhere. The yeshiva is unique in its approach to the study of Jewish religious texts and doctrine, and it would be difficult to ensure its students access to similar education if the yeshiva were to close.”

When asked where the yeshiva students are, Pruzansky said, “Somewhere else.”

“They will come back in good time,” he said.

The lawsuit further states, “One important function of the yeshiva and its staff is to support and sustain the congregation, without which the synagogue would be unable to provide a house of worship and study for the members of the congregation. If the yeshiva were to close, the synagogue would have to cease operations as well.”

When contacted regarding how the yeshiva’s recent withdrawal from the town has affected the synagogue and its services, Roosevelt resident Arthur Shapiro, the newly elected president of Congregation Anshei Roosevelt, said, “We are in the process of litigation and so it would be inappropriate to provide you with further information.”

When asked if the synagogue has considered selling its property to the yeshiva, Shapiro said that the congregation

“has no plans for selling its property to the yeshiva.”

Earlier this year, the state Department of

Community Affairs

(DCA) fined the

yeshiva for illegally

using three homes on

Homestead Lane as dormitories

to house its students. Since the yeshiva stopped operating out of the synagogue earlier this year, yeshiva students have not been housed in the community.

When asked if the DCA had anything to do with the evacuation of the homes, DCA spokesperson Chris Donnelly said, “The DCA has not mandated an evacuation of these properties. We are still operating under the initial settlement agreement, which limits occupancy of the three Homestead Lane properties to five or fewer people at each location.”

Donnelly said that the yeshiva has applied for and has been issued permits to make some corrections to the homes that would allow them to eventually be classified as dorms.

“Until all requirements regarding dormitory status are met and the owners obtain the necessary zoning approvals from the municipality for a change of use, certificates of occupancy cannot and will not be issued and no more than five residents can be housed at these locations,” he said.

Warnick, who lives next door to 2 Homestead Lane, which is one of the homes the yeshiva had been using to house students, told the Borough Council that she understands that the yeshiva will “invade” the neighborhood again soon and that she considers the invasion one having to do with money.

Warnick told the council that her issue with the yeshiva was never about the 12 students who originally comprised the school, but about the eventual 150 students and staff the school has said it plans to bring into the residential neighborhood.

“It increases the population of the community by about 20 percent on one little street,” Warnick said, adding that the increase in the population will affect the borough’s water, sewer and other services.

“It’s a school, and it doesn’t belong there,” she said.