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Synagogue members denied entrance during Hempstead 5K

Rita Rutman (left), Lynn Sevan (center), and Herbert

Rita Rutman (left), Lynn Sevan (center), and Herbert Karen (right) stand outside the closed sanctuary door of Beth Israel, a synagogue in Hempstead Village, after they say the village blocked them and other congregates from driving to services this morning because of a 5K Run hosted by Hempstead Village Mayor Wayne Hall. They say the were given no notification and that their civil rights were violated because services were canceled after members, including the rabbi, were blocked from services. Rutman and Sevan walked more than half a mile to the synagogue while Karen said he found a side street that opened at 10 a.m., an hour after services were supposed to begin. Photo Credit: Photo by Yamiche Alcindor

Herbert Karen has been saying the same prayer of remembrance every day for his mother since she died in January.

His ritual ended Saturday, however, when police told Karen, who attends Congregation Beth Israel in Hempstead Village, that he wasn't allowed to drive down the street to the synagogue because of a 5K run.

"My civil rights were violated," said Karen, 56, who made it to the synagogue only to find the service had been canceled because of a lack of people. "This is my home. This is where I come to honor my mother. I was denied my rights because of a run. I can't accept that."

Roadblocks set up for the fourth annual Healthy Hempstead 5K Run and Walk-A-Thon left he and other congregants, who members said are mostly middle-aged and older, with the option of walking more than half a mile to service or turning around.

Faced with that dilemma, the rabbi and most members went home, and the 9 a.m. service at the temple at 141 Hilton Ave. - normally attended by between 20 and 40 people - was canceled.

Mayor Wayne Hall, who ran 44:22 in the village-sponsored 5K, apologized for the incident in a phone interview Saturday and said he would be willing to go to the synagogue to apologize personally.

This is the first year the run has followed this route, Hall said. The location shifted so the run could start at a clinic hosting a health fair.

The village's automated phone service was supposed to notify those affected by the route, including the synagogue's office, Hall said.

But Lynn Sevan, 63, the synagogue's vice president of congregation, said they were never notified.

"It wasn't something intentional," Hall said. "We apologize. We made an error. We didn't think of this synagogue."

For Karen, an apology isn't enough. "It's unacceptable," he said. "He could have had his race and allowed me into my synagogue. You can't say I can't pray because there is a marathon."

Karen was one of three people who made it to the synagogue Saturday. Sevan and Rita Rutman, 69, said they spent the morning driving up and down Hempstead Turnpike trying to gain access to Congregation Beth Israel through side streets.

Eventually, the two parked more than half a mile away and walked to the synagogue, they said. "A lot of people can't walk that distance," Sevan said.

Jewish law requires 10 or more people to conduct a service, she said. With only three people: Karen, of Hempstead Village; Rutman, of Oceanside; and Sevan, of East Meadow, sat outside the locked sanctuary, lamenting over the canceled service.

"It was a total disregard for Jewish people," Sevan said.

Calls to Rabbi Michael Eisenstein were not returned Saturday. Sevan said he might not answer because of the Sabbath.

Hall, who has been honored at the 120-member synagogue and spoken there several times, said he plans to make changes to the race, whose proceeds go toward the Hempstead High School Scholarship Fund.

"We're either going to change the route so they won't be impacted next year or we'll allow them to go through," he said.

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