Israeli Reform Community Waited 15 Years for Own Synagogue. Now It's Suing

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Members of Kehilat Yonatan during a Simchat Torah celebration.
Members of Kehilat Yonatan during a Simchat Torah celebration.Credit: Kehilat Yonatan

The Reform movement in Israel is suing a municipality for blocking plans to build a synagogue for its members.

In the lawsuit, the Reform movement charges that the municipality in Hod Hasharon – a small city north of Tel Aviv – is guilty of religious discrimination because it has subjected the project to excessive red tape.

The suit was filed in Lod District Court last week, and a hearing has been scheduled for July 15.

Members of Kehilat Yonatan filed the suit through the Israel Religious Action Center, the movement’s local advocacy arm.

“They have messed around with us for years, and we finally decided to take legal action,” said Rabbi Michael Boyden, the spiritual leader of the congregation. Kehilat Yonatan is one of about 50 Reform congregations in Israel.

Hundreds of local residents attend its services during the Jewish holidays and, according to IRAC, thousands of Hod Hasharon residents participate in lectures and other activities organized by the congregation each year.

Until now, the congregation has used a building in the Alexander Muss High School – which provides programs for high school students from around the world – as a temporary venue for holding services and other activities.

The congregation is named in honor of Boyden’s son, Yonatan, who was killed in action in Lebanon in 1993. The family had moved to Israel in 1985 from a suburb of Manchester, England, where the elder Boyden served as a congregational rabbi.

The suit notes that, in 2013, the municipality signed a contract to provide the congregation with land on which it could build a synagogue. In exchange, the congregation promised to raise the necessary funds for planning and construction, and to obtain all the building permits required. The contract stipulated that the synagogue would be inaugurated no later than April 2017.

According to the suit, the congregation did not meet this deadline because, among other reasons, the city – which owns the land – has withheld approval of the building plans presented by the congregation.

This is not the first time plans to build a synagogue for the congregation have fallen through.

The congregation submitted its first request for land upon which to build a synagogue some 15 years ago. A professional municipal committee approved the request seven years later, but the mayor vetoed the decision because he preferred to hand over the plot to other developers. It took another three years before an alternative plot was found for the congregation.

Asked to comment, a municipality spokeswoman said it was studying the suit and would submit its reply to the court.

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