FLEISCHMANNS — Little more than a week after state officials ordered the closure of Jewish-owned hotels, motels and camps previously cited for violating COVID-19 guidelines, dozens of additional visitors arrived in the village, according to Mayor Fred Woller.
“Three busloads of students just pulled up at the yeshiva,” Woller wrote in a Sunday email to village community members. “I am frustrated beyond the edge.”
Another busload arrived Tuesday morning, according to Janet Becker, a village weekender for the past three years and a full-time resident as of this week.
“We expect them here every year, but this summer is different,” she said. “They’re not protecting us if they’re carrying the virus and infecting each other. The rest of us don’t want to be infected.”
Becker, who is blind as the result of an autoimmune disease that has also left her immunocompromised, said “the last thing I want is to be affected by COVID.”
“I’m very cautious; I don’t go into the supermarket,” she said. “I can’t walk my seeing-eye dog without someone else because I can’t see who’s coming without a mask.”
Becker said she observed an influx of 14- to 18-year-olds throughout the village and suspected it was the result of the closure of Timber Lake Camp in nearby Shandaken, a secular camp known to host large populations of Jewish campers.
“They argue that the gatherings are part of religious instruction, but they do all the things a camper would do, including playing basketball and baseball,” Becker said. “Why are they different than any other kid going to camp? Why are they above the law?”
The New York State Department of Health issued cease-and-desist orders earlier this month to six village businesses after finding them in violation of Public Health Law, but Woller and other village officials suspected that the hundreds of hotel and motel occupants were dispersed among private residences in the village.
Woller said he met with state health officials after they were notified of the latest wave of visitors to the village.
“(The Department of Health) will continue to hold all camp operators accountable for their actions,” representatives said in a Tuesday statement. “As these are active investigations, we cannot comment further.”
Marilyn Ringel, a part-time village resident of more than a decade, said her residence is “right in the middle of the whole thing.”
“I see it all — the whole show is unraveling right in front of me,” she said. “I’d call it a circus, but a circus is organized chaos. This is very unorganized chaos. Me and my neighbors just want a healthy, happy community.”
Ringel said she witnessed “boys going into rooms at the Flagstone in the dark with flashlights” and “being driven to houses in the middle of the night.”
New York State Police responded to a late-night complaint of a campfire in the parking lot of the Flagstone Motel several weeks ago, she said.
The Flagstone Motel, owned by Brooklyn resident Avi Mendlovic, has been the site of multiple complaints to troopers throughout the past month, according to Troop C Public Information Officer Aga Dembinska.
On July 18, troopers responded to a complaint of children playing basketball without masks, she said. With no power to enforce state COVID-19 regulations, troopers reported the incident to the mayor, the village code enforcement officer and the state health department.
“We’ll respond to any complaint that we get, but in these cases, we can only ‘take appropriate action and educate,’” Dembinska said, adding that a disorderly conduct citation could be issued if someone “adamantly does not want to wear a mask.”
Troopers have also responded to noise complaints about chanting and singing, which were found to be dispersed before their arrival.
On July 12, troopers responded to a social distancing complaint on Armstrong Park Road, where they spoke with the temporary director of a camp who informed them of a “no mask, no entry” policy, Dembinska said. “We didn’t see anybody not wearing a mask, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t just put one on when they saw us pull up.”
Becker said Mendlovic’s son, Abe, called her an “anti-Semitic Jew” in response to her speaking up about the COVID-19 transgressions she observed.
“This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. I’m Jewish, but I don’t practice the level of Judaism they do,” Becker said. “They’re lovely people. They have every right to be here like anybody else, but I don’t agree with them being here because of COVID.”
Victoria Szerko, who has been a village property owner for 29 years and a full-time resident since 1998, said she and her friends have received threatening, anonymous phone calls with ominous messages such as “what goes around, comes around.”
“People feel emboldened to do these things if there are no consequences,” she said. “Mendlovic is untouchable.”
Szerko said she is concerned for the safety of her 77-year-old husband, Yuri Fedorov, who has been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lupus.
“He has a lot of underlying conditions, but those are the main concern,” she said. “We do keep our distance, but it’s very uncomfortable to be here because people walk around and they’re not wearing masks.”
“This is an ongoing problem. These visitors seem to not care what anybody else thinks,” Szerko continued, citing complaints about noise and garbage in the streets. “It’s kind of disconcerting when people are not following the law.”
“The law applies to everybody. No one’s picking on anybody,” Ringel said. “Most of the people around are on the same page — we don’t want other people getting sick. I can't wait for summer to be over so everyone goes home.”
Christopher Plant, Margaretville code enforcement officer and representative for the Mendlovics, did not return requests for comment.
Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at email@example.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.