By SELIM ALGAR
A group of Hasidic Jews have found themselves in a no-holds-barred battle
with ritzy Southampton residents as they try to establish the first
synagogue there on a mansion-studded street.
The religious uproar erupted after members of the Chabad of Southampton
Jewish Center began using the private home of Rabbi Rafe Konikov on tony
Hill Street as an informal synagogue in 1999.
The problem was the place of worship is in a residential area, a violation
of local zoning laws.
That prompted the Southampton Village Building Department to cite Konikov
for code violations last year ? and a group of neighbors to sue to try to
shut down the religious gatherings at his home.
The Chabad is now petitioning the Southampton Village Zoning Board of
Appeals for an exemption.
"There is really nowhere else to go [for the group to worship], especially
for people who want to walk there on Sabbath," said synagogue member Carl
Davis of Southampton.
Davis and others argue that the synagogue does not disturb the serenity of
the affluent area.
As for detractors, "I think some of the people opposed just don't
understand what we represent ? we are the first synagogue in the oldest
village in New York state," Konikov said.
The rabbi said he hosts about 20 people per weekend on the off-season and
around double that during the summer.
But some residents who live near the Chabad house have complained that the
synagogue's presence has a negative impact on property values and snarls
traffic in the area, especially during the busy summer season.
They filed a lawsuit in the hopes that a state court will shut it down and
order a halt to the current zoning-board appeal.
"I'm just not sure this is the right place," said Audrey Linney, whose
mother lives near the house during the summer.
"Look around. This is about as residential as it gets. Any time you have
people getting together in numbers on a regular basis, that's going to
annoy people, especially around here."
Another neighbor said the area's residential character should be
"Zoning is in place for a reason," she said. "You don't just throw it out
Still, others had no problem with the formalizing of the synagogue.
"To be honest, if this was another church, I don't think it would be a big
deal," said a neighbor who would not give his name. "It's not like these
people are throwing concerts in there."