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Letter from America

Living under lock and key
Written by Ellen Neumann
Sullivan County, New York
January 12th 2012


Ellen NeumannUntil recently, I never locked a door in my life. I live in the Catskill Mountain area of New York State; a rustic community with glorious natural resources and magnificent panoramic views. We are primarily a rural farm and resort area, hosting thousands of summer visitors until a few years ago when the bottom fell out of our local economy. Our farms produced abundant bounty and provided a good living for their owners until they became overregulated as well as overtaxed. Poverty, which rarely reared its ugly head here in days gone by, now ‘rules the roost’ in our lovely Sullivan County. The newspapers are constantly and consistently reporting robberies, burglaries and home invasions within a 20-mile radius of my residence. Last week, a local synagogue was broken into and their Torah* was stolen. Why are these things happening to our once safe little world?

The resort industry, which was the main source of employment for thousands of county residents, came to a slow but steady demise over several decades. In the early part of the 20th century, the Catskill Mountains were easily accessible by rail from NYC and provided a perfect backdrop for summer vacations. Massive resort hotels (which employed many local people) were built to accommodate the hoards of summer visitors who scrambled to the Catskills each June and stayed for several months. As transportation became easier with the invention of the car and the airplane, people started to go farther away and the Catskill Resort industry suffered a slow death. Today the fine old resorts of the past stand empty; their grand buildings rotting to the ground. The thousands of people who once made their living through these remarkable establishments are now either unemployed (many living on public assistance) or have moved on to greener pastures.

Farming, an honourable and once a prime industry locally, has become a struggle for the average farmer. Land taxes continue to soar as more and more non-profit religious groups buy up huge tracts of land which are then removed from the County Tax rolls. This created a heavy tax burden to be carried by the farmers as well as all tax payers. Too many government regulations on the farming industry, some necessary and some frivolous, have added personal and financial strain to the weakening farming sector. In the past, hard-working farmers passed their farms to the next generation, attempting to ‘keep in the family’. Unfortunately, due to too much property division and a difficult economy, many farms have been dissolved and destroyed in favour of housing developments and landfills. This means fewer jobs and more poverty for our beautiful county. One thing is becoming very clear to me: Poverty breeds trouble!

The crime rate is soaring. The robberies continue. Drugs are a factor in this to be sure, but they cannot be blamed for all of the recent crime I firmly believe that the crime rate has a lot to do with so many people feeling desperate; taking measures to amend their plight using poor or no judgment. This is no excuse for the criminal acts now forcing me to lock my doors at night; to bring my keys into the house instead of leaving them in the ignition of my car and to make sure I have means of protection at hand. I am truly annoyed that I have to place myself and my possessions under lock and key. But I will! Oh yeah! No choice!

Lock n’ Load!

*Torah: is the name given by the Jewish faith to the ‘Five Books of Moses’ that begin the Hebrew Bible:

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