Sunday, October 29, 2006

Breaking the Law & Making a Kiddush Hashem?

(Hat tip: Yeshiva World)

Here's an interesting case... the yeshiva in Waterbury was in the news recently for using private homes as dormitories. All in all, the news coverage was quite good - sticking to the facts, airing both sides of the story, etc. Basically, Waterbury has been using these homes as temporary dorms with the full intention of building actual dorms on campus within 1-2 years. With the large growth of the school, they've put people in homes - which they own - nearby. It wasn't clear if they realized this was or wasn't illegal from the story, and interestingly, the neighbors don't (generally) seem to mind them:

Several neighbors said the yeshiva students are a welcome addition to their neighborhood. They drive like Brooklyn cab drivers, but who cares? said 74-year-old William Regan, a roofing contractor recovering at home from pneumonia. Ive never had any problems with them.

They’re just kids, dear, interjected Regans wife, Barbara. She recalled one boy insisted on helping her carry groceries when her husband was in the hospital. If there was a problem, Id be the first to complain, Barbara Regan said. I find them very respectful.

Yeshiva student Eli Lang, 16, said he can understand noise complaints, but stressed his classmates do their best to fit in. The schools rabbis have impressed upon them the need to be courteous and respectful, he said.

We are not looking to make enemies. We want to make friends, Lang said.

The latest round of city interest in the dorms was sparked by Alderman Denis Odle, who asked the Zoning Commission to order Sequin to enforce the city’s zoning codes. Odle said he has received nearly two dozen complaints about poorly maintained properties and wild driving by the youths.

Both of those problems are easily fixed, as the yeshiva could put a bit of money into fixing or have the guys themselves fix the place up. And, they could easily ban those under a certain age from driving as many schools (such as my own high school) do.

The yeshiva also doesn't seem to have been hiding the issue, either: They have bought more houses and applied for them to be taken off the tax rolls because they're a tax-exempt entity. The article seems to show that the issue is more of the city allowing it, to the point that they actually specifically met with the yeshiva about it:

The dorms are an obvious breach of the city’s land-use regulations, City Planner James Sequin told the Zoning Commission this week. But city staffers were leery of infringing on the students religious rights, he said. So, after meeting with yeshiva leaders, city officials agreed to allow things to continue as long as there were no flagrant problems, Sequin said.

The city’s fire marshal also inspected, and cleared, the dormitories, he said.

All in all, this is a weird case. Clearly, what they're doing is illegal - but nobody really seems to be much bothered by it. The city seems to be trying to figure out how to best work this out, as the yeshiva (and presumably, community) growth seems to be a positive for the city. The students seem to be polite and trying their best to "make friends" with their neighbors, their poor driving skills notwithstanding, and the neighbors themselves seem to like having them around. Obviously the law is something that cannot and should not be broken, but the approach by the yeshiva and the city in working together toward a solution is nice to see. There is none of the all-too-common bickering, the claims on one side that the Jews are 'creating their own set of rules' and on the other side that people are 'out to get us'. This is how all disputes should be handled: Quietly, calmly, honestly, and with proper derekh eretz*.

Who knew that breaking the law could create such a kiddush Hashem**?

* loosely: manners
** lit: santification of God's name