April 16, 2024
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Vandals Hit Camp Shalom – Anti-Semitism Ruled Out

Chestnut Ridge—Vandalism isn’t necessarily a hate crime and there was no sign of it found by the Ramapo Police at the Camp Shalom site on the grounds of the Chestnut Ridge Middle School in the Village of Chestnut Ridge. This was good news to the Camp Director, Rabbi Yehoshua Gold, who did not want parents to fear sending their children to the camp in their new location.

Worries that the camp had been targeted because of its Modern Orthodox orientation were dispelled by news that a secular camp, Nature Place Day Camp, just a half mile away, was vandalized at about the same time—between the night of July 5 and the morning of July 6.

At Camp Shalom, the lining of one of the four inflatable temporary pool structures, bedded in 20 by 40 wooden frames surrounded by a gate at the top, and located on a field north of the building, was slashed in seven places, causing about $15,000 in damage. At The Nature Place Camp, banners used to decorate teepees were slashed and some were burned. No estimate of damage was available.

Prior to the incident at Camp Shalom, there was frustration and animosity leveled at the East Ramapo Board of Education (ERBOE) and reports of slurs leveled at workmen, as well as several complaints filed against the ERBOE for renting the property to the camp. That the school’s building and grounds had been rented out in previous years to day camps seemed unknown or ignored by bloggers writing complaints.

In this case, even though the school district garnered $125,000 in revenues, the nasty messages on social media were there for everyone to see. Bloggers on Facebook expressed their frustration at the ERBOE by tarring Camp Shalom with the same brush, making accusations about the safety of the community and the campers, students and staff at both Camp Shalom and at ERCSD.

A typical rant reads like this: “Once again, it is easier to beg forgiveness and feign ignorance than ask for permission. This camp was aware since December that they needed permits, this was no surprise. Where are the dangerous pool chemicals being stored? Is this a health hazard for the ERCSD students and staff? Where will the pools and chemicals be stored after the camp closes? What security measures are there to make sure the pools are not being used after hours? Who is paying for all of this? Once again, the derelict BOE makes an agreement and keeps it secret until the last minute…I guess the district doesn’t feel that the neighbors needed to be told about the camp or the pools ahead of time. Great neighbors! Another example of the BOE doing whatever they want without regard for the law.”

Ryan Karben, the attorney for Camp Shalom, quoted what he labeled as hate speech that he’d read in the blog entries and asked for the Ramapo Police to investigate the incident at Camp Shalom as a hate crime.

However Ramapo Police told JLBC that while the investigation is ongoing, there is no sign that this was a hate crime. “There is nothing at this scene to indicate anything more than a straightforward criminal mischief to property, vandalism. There was nothing written on the walls or painted. No notes or anything like that.”

Police said there were no operating security cameras in the area of where the four pools were being erected and they are looking at neighbors’ security camera footage as part of their investigation.

As to bloggers’ accusations concerning Camp Shalom and the ERCSD, records show that while there had been disagreement on what permits were necessary, correspondence had been ongoing among Karben, and Minerva and D’Agostino the law firm for the ERBOE and the Village of Chestnut Ridge since February to discuss what was needed for the camp and the pool to open.

On the Village of Chestnut Ridge website there is a notice posted some time prior to June that the ERCSD had leased the school to the Teaneck-based Camp Shalom, the days and hours of operation and that temporary structures, including swimming pools and a sports activity enclosure, were being erected. It also states that Camp Shalom had applied for and received the appropriate permits from the Village. The permit is dated June 18.

There had been concerns that the field on which the pools were to be constructed would be destroyed due to the pouring of cement bases but plans and diagrams at the Chestnut Ridge Building Department—and none of the filed documents or descriptions of the pools had any mention of poured cement bases or platforms.

As to permits from the Rockland County Board of Health (DOH), FOILed documents showed that there were two complaints filed on July 6 stating improper storage of chemicals, garbage cans filled with rainwater (fears of the west Nile virus carrying mosquitoes), and insects and rodents were present as well as diapers on the ground and no protective fence. However two DOH inspectors stated in their report that when they visited on July 7, there were no violations observed. “There was no evidence of any garbage. The pool was under construction and at the time of this inspection no pools were constructed requiring a fence.” A permit was issued by the DOH on June 25 for operation of a children’s camp. Once the pool was inspected, a permit would be issued.

There were accusations that the ERBOE had failed to obtain permission from the New York State Board of Education and Karben and Minerva and D’Agostino  advised the Chestnut Ridge that since it was school property, it was exempt for the need for permits.

However, “ Jeanne Beattie, spokesperson for the NYSED said, “Since the school facility in question is currently used for public school purposes, the State Education Department is the Authority having Jurisdiction. The Department would review and approve any and all work done there.

“Carl Thurnau, Director, Office of Facilities Planning, NYS Education Department, had a conversation with the District Superintendent and informed him that a permit should have been obtained from the department for the pool installation. However, a penalty was not issued. Mr. Thurnau discussed the installation with the Engineer for the project/District and local code officials and determined the project was properly designed.”

For the past two years Camp Shalom had been located at the Ma Tov Camp Grounds in Old Tappan, NJ and no reports of any complaints about their operations could be found. Rabbi Yehashua Gold said they moved the camp to the Chestnut Ridge Middle School grounds because rental fees for Ma Tov had been jacked so much he would have had to prohibitively increase camp fees.  The lease with ERBOE is for two years but could be extended to five years.

If found and convicted, the perpetrators of the vandalism could face charges of criminal mischief in the second degree, a class D felony which carries a prison sentence of one to four years—though Karben said the camp was assessing whether it will press charges pending the police investigation.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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