Boy at summer camp
Boy at summer camp iStock

Eight Orthodox Jewish summer camps in the Catskills have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the town of Wawarsing, New York for imposing restrictions that the camps allege place unfair burdens on their ability to operate, the Times Herald-Record reported.

The regulations, mandated last October, would limit new camps to two designated locations and create strict rules about capacity, cabin occupancy and fencing.

The eight Jewish camps and one Jewish school, that are home to around 4,300 children, charged in their lawsuit that the new requirements would make it impossible for them to expand or improve their facilities without facing a series of unworkable hurdles.

"We feel that this is harassment," Rabbi David Rosenberg told the Times Herald-Record.

Rabbi Rosenberg, the director of Camp Rav Tov, a 70-year old camp that has 2,600 campers and is the largest of the Jewish camps in Wawarsing, added: "We're trying to work with the town. We don't want to hurt the town."

The zoning amendment described the “overlay district” for the camps as a regulation to make sure they are "compatible with the surrounding land uses, have adequate access to emergency service providers, can be served adequately by sewer and water systems, and will not have adverse townwide impacts." The legislation’s goal was also to "protect the rural character and open space in the town."

But the camps’ legal team alleged that the rule changes were put in place to ensure it was “impossible for Orthodox Jewish camps to expand, repair, and continue to operate in the town, thereby forcing them to relocate to another town.”

They are alleging that the zoning rules violate state law, the Constitution and the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

While existing camps are exempt from the provisions of the new law as long as they remain in their current state, they are now not able not make changes and many upgrades. They also cannot expand outside the strict camp zone without facing standards they say are impossible to meet, and worry that if they attempt to add improvements to their camp they may be forced to abide by regulations such as installing fencing around their entire property, limiting the number of campers to 400 and lowering cabin occupancy to 10.

"Over the last few years, the town has harassed the Orthodox Jewish camps through targeted enforcement of local ordinances," Eric Treene, one of the camps’ lawyers told the news outlet. "The town has also abused its municipal power by intentionally creating unnecessary obstacles and delays for Orthodox Jewish camps, making repair or expansion efforts into a bureaucratic nightmare."

(Israel National News' North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Israel National News articles, however, is Israeli time.)