Court push to open Jewish sleepaway camps goes before judge on Tuesday – Times Herald-Record

Posted By on July 3, 2020

Chris McKenna|Times Herald-Record

Hasidic families whose children go to sleepaway camps in the Catskills are awaiting a federal court hearing on Tuesday in a case that will determine if those camps open this summer over the state's objections.

The Association of Jewish Camp Operators sued Gov. Andrew Cuomo this month after he barred overnight camps from opening because of continued concerns about spreading the coronavirus. The plaintiffs argue the decision violatedreligious rights and was inconsistent with the state letting other non-essential activities resume.

The upcoming hearing before Chief Judge Glenn Suddaby of the Northern District of New York concerns the camp operators' request for temporary orders allowing the camps to open while the case is pending. The camps represented by the association serve more than 40,000 children, according to its court papers.

The camps had hoped to open on Thursday of this week. While the court challenge remains pending, some operators are trying to circumvent the prohibition by obtaining permits to open as "temporary residences," the state's term for hotels, motels and cabin colonies.

The state Department of Health distributed a letter on Thursday that warned camp operators of an unusual caveat if they plan to declare themselves temporary residences:parents would have to stay overnight with their children at the camps.

The letter, reported by the Jewish newspaper Hamodia,also noted that those camps would have to forgo congregate meal service and adhere to other coronavirus-related restrictions. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 per violation per day.

Camp operators are pursuing other avenues to open their doors.

A Brooklyn-based branch of the Satmar Hasidic movementtweeted on Monday that Ulster County had granted permission for their camps in Ulster to function as day camps, and that children would be bused backed and forth to the Catskills each day. Summer day camps are allowed to open throughout New York, starting on Monday.

The same Satmar Twitter handle latercelebratedSuddaby's assignment as judge forthe camp case, calling him a "sympathetic judge" and saying the group's four camps would be ready to begin full operations within two days of a ruling allowing them to do so.

State officials determined that overnight camps posed more of a health risk than day camps. Dr. Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, said in a statement this month that the group settings and sleeping quarters at sleepaway camps made it too difficult to maintain social distancing and control the spread of the virus.

The state imposed numerous requirements and restrictions on any day camps that open, including a mandate that employees wear masks if they are withinsix feet of other workers or campers.

cmckenna@th-record.com

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Court push to open Jewish sleepaway camps goes before judge on Tuesday - Times Herald-Record

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