Septic tank standoff ends peacefully in Kiryas Joel
By Chris Mckenna • Times Herald-Record
KIRYAS JOEL — The battle over utility connections to a dissident synagogue had been raging for a couple weeks, ever since Kiryas Joel's main congregation shut off the services and the opposition group found a way to restore them, in an improvised fashion.
The skirmishes went on and on. Someone from the main group boarded a hydraulic lift and sliced the electrical cord running to the shul from a neighboring property to provide power.
The dissidents taped the pieces together.
So it came as little surprise Thursday when retribution rolled around the corner of the building in the form of a backhoe, sent by the main congregation to remove two septic holding tanks the dissidents had buried outside to provide temporary sewer service.
A riot has begun, dissident leader Joseph Waldman exclaimed by cell phone, as his fellow congregants swarmed around the backhoe, spectators gathered and state troopers converged on the site.
The two sides are at war over the house of worship, which has operated for more than 25 years in a former apartment attached to the back of main congregation's giant, stone synagogue on Garfield Road.
A trial court and then an appeals court have ruled that the dissidents must seek belated approval from the village to use the former residence for prayer. But what is disputed now is whether the main congregation was entitled to block utilities and which side owns the land where the holding tanks were placed.
Hence the backhoe.
By the time a trooper and state police sergeant arrived, the backhoe had ripped out a metal fence, and young men were clinging to its bucket to prevent further destruction.
The backhoe came courtesy of developer Sol Ekstein, son of David Ekstein, president of the main congregation, Yetev Lev.
Standing beside it, Ekstein first lied to a reporter about his name – “Bernie Frish” – and then lied about ripping out the mangled fence, which his driver readily admitted doing when asked.
A two-hour standoff ensued. Finally, the elder Ekstein and Waldman were summoned to the nearby state police barracks to meet with a commander. Waldman called from there with a victorious message.
“God was with us!” he said. “Nothing is going to be touched.”
Shortly afterward, he stood smiling outside the synagogue, yalmulke pulled forward jauntily on his head, white shirt sleeves rolled up. His fellow congregants were singing and clapping as the backhoe pulled away.