Ramapo yeshiva plans to move after violations cited
Steve Lieberman and Jenna Carlesso • Journal News
RAMAPO - An ultra-Orthodox Jewish congregation that ran an illegal children's school and violated numerous health and safety codes is leaving a residential neighborhood on Route 306, officials said.
Neighbors were pleased that Bobover Yeshiva, which also was the site of a backyard cow slaughtering, planned to leave the area.
The Hasidic Jewish congregation plans to lease classrooms for its students at Yeshiva Degel Hatorah on Maple Avenue in Spring Valley starting on Sept. 1.
"Of course I am happy," neighbor Carol Friedman said. "We're not happy that they managed to stay open for 10 weeks after they should have been shut down. They turned their backs on the health and welfare of the children."
The congregation's decision to move came as Ramapo inspectors issued Bobover Yeshiva additional health and safety violations. Ramapo and Rockland's Department of Health officials inspected the building on Aug. 13.
Ramapo Fire Inspector Thomas Buckley issued the yeshiva citations on Aug. 14 for illegal construction - converting the two-car detached garage into a classroom for students, including a child in a wheelchair, without a fire-prevention system or proper exits.
The inspectors also found electrical wiring problems in the kitchen, blocked emergency exits and mouse droppings in the kitchen.
The inspections came after the Hillcrest Fire Department responded to a fire alarm and found violations. Hillcrest Fire Chief Kim Weppler was concerned that when the alarms went off, the students didn't evacuate the building.
"Class was still going, business as usual," he said.
Weppler said the alarm system was activated by heat coming from the kitchen. Firefighters walked through the yeshiva and discovered "unsatisfactory" conditions in the kitchen and bathrooms, he said.
"We found spoiled food on shelves, electrical outlet connections that were lying in water in the middle of the kitchen, basically unsanitary conditions all the way around," Weppler said.
The downstairs bathroom, which the children use, had holes in the ceiling and was without hot water, toilet paper and towels, Weppler said. A urinal was "basically falling off the wall," he said.
Rabbi Gershon Bornfreund, the school's director, did not return two telephone messages Friday.
Rockland Fire Coordinator Gordon Wren, who also surveyed the yeshiva, said he was especially concerned about the safety hazard it posed for the children attending classes there.
"We have all these rules and regulations for schools with young children because we've had tragedies all over the country," Wren said. "These rules need to be obeyed."
The congregation faces $10,000 in additional fines issued from Ramapo, on top of previous charges pending in court including operating without a certificate of occupancy and other violations.
The congregation recently paid a $5,000 fine for allowing the ritual slaughter of a cow in May. The remnants of the cow were found dripping blood outside, and the head and intestines were stored in a classroom.
The congregation's Route 306 neighbors were pleased the school was supposedly being closed, though they said they wished the town and county would have shut it down sooner.
"They say they want to be good neighbors but continue to ignore the law and codes," Friedman said of the yeshiva.
Friedman, who has lived for 44 years in the neighborhood, and other neighbors said Bobover should have followed the rules.
Weppler said someone had to stand up for the schoolchildren.
"They (the teachers) don't recognize the dangers involved," he said. "Somebody needed to be an advocate for these kids, and I guess it had to be us."
The congregation opened the school without approvals, and after being cited, delayed leaving the building and petitioned the town for approval to build a larger school for 250 students.
The Ramapo Planning Board turned down the project.
"I really didn't care if a yeshiva was here," neighbor Rodney Wechsler said on Friday. "They should have done it the right way, by the rules. This was done very sneaky. They opened up a school behind everyone's backs."
Town Attorney Michael Klein said Ramapo learned about the yeshiva in the winter of 2008. When the congregation went before the town Planning and zoning boards with plans to legalize the school, that prevented the town from closing them down, he said.
"The application to the zoning board constitutes a legal stay," Klein said. "We still have three cases pending against them. They are facing significant fines that are not going away because they move."
The Rockland County Department of Health also has issues with Bobover Yeshiva on Route 306.
The department found unsanitary conditions, such as rodent droppings on the shelves and in a pan with utensils in the yeshiva kitchen, on Aug. 13, said John Stoughton, a senior public health sanitarian.
The kitchen was used for cooking even though the yeshiva's kitchen permit was pulled in May, Stoughton said.
Stoughton said the permit was pulled because of issues with the water well and an overflowing septic system. The yeshiva broke a commitment to hook into United Water's system by May 15.
Stoughton said the yeshiva has 30 days to have a licensed plumber shut off the gas to the kitchen stove and install proper faucets for people to wash their hands.
If the yeshiva moves to Spring Valley, the new school building would not have a permit for cooking and would have to bring in catered food for the children, Stoughton said.
Weppler said he is relieved that the school is moving to a new building.
The structure had been a single family residence and was meant to stay that way, he said.
"It's not designed to be a classroom," Weppler said. "I'm glad they understand this and are going to find appropriate conditions for these children."