Neil Sedaka performed in Coney Island recently, and some Jewish residents of the area weren’t happy about it. Not that they have anything against Sedaka, a 1960s icon who sometimes sings in Yiddish. They mind the noise.
Sedaka’s concert in Asser Levy Park — named for one of the first Jewish settlers of New York City née New Amsterdam — was the latest high-decibel shot between two Jewish politicians (Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz) and two Jewish congregations (Temple Beth Abraham and the Sea Breeze Jewish Center).
The congregations, across the street from the park, sued to prevent an expanded bandshell-amphitheater from being built in the park, where Markowitz has sponsored an annual summer concert series for 20 year. A Brooklyn Supreme Court judge recently ruled that the concerts are in violation of a city noise ordinance; Bloomberg pushed and two weeks ago signed a Council bill that exempts the concert series from the restrictions for 90 days.
The Jewish Week spoke with Mendy Sontag, president of Beth Abraham, about the controversy.
Q: Why are you against the amphitheater?
A: We have [worship] services 365 days a year, and classes. It disturbs our services. It will destroy the quality of life in the neighborhood. It’s absurd.
Have you and other people on your side explained your concerns to the Borough president?
I personally sat with Marty Markowitz. He said he’s going to reconsider the situation. Whatever he said, he went back on his word. He turned this into a Jewish matter; he said [at public events] that the synagogues are trying to stop the concerts.
I decided to fight City Hall.
Is this a Jewish issue, or are you carrying the ball for other upset residents of your neighborhood?
It’s not a Jewish issue. This had never been an issue about religion. It’s about maintaining our community’s precious quality of life. The community came to us to stop [the amphitheater]. It’s shameful to use religion for a personal agenda.
First a judge’s injunction sides with you. Then the City Council passes a bill that makes the injunction moot. Can you — successfully — fight City Hall?
We fought them for a year. The mayor knows that there are close to 15,000 people who signed [a petition] against this. It’s definitely not over.
Do you regret that you’ve had to go to court over this? Would you have preferred quiet diplomacy that isn’t so public and might not leave bitterness on either side?
We didn’t want to go public. We regret going to court. We tried quiet diplomacy with Marty Markowitz. They caused us to go public.
Proponents of the amphitheater say it will create jobs, help the economy and raise the area’s level of culture. Do you leave yourself open to the claim that opponents on the amphitheater aren’t civic-minded?
Do you know what they’re going to do to the area, between parking [problems] and loitering and noise and drinking and prostitution? It’s going to be fantastic for the area.
New York’s already a noisy place, and a certain level of ambient noise is not unknown in some synagogues. How much more bothersome will the amphitheater be?
Two synagogues feuding with a Jewish politician over a venue named for one of the city’s first Jewish residents. Only in New York?
Probably only in New York. Maybe also in Israel.