Ramat Gan Chooses Green Over God

Plan that would see synagogue built on park axed

Ramat Gan residents appear to have won their battle this week to keep the mayor from replacing a neighborhood pocket park with a synagogue.

After a zoning subcommittee rejected the city's plan to move an existing synagogue to a park on one of Israel's busiest streets, Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar asked for the issue to be discussed by a plenum session of the Tel Aviv District Planning and Building Committee.

The committee has rejected the request, in effect accepting the subcommittee's decision in favor of keeping the park at 101 Jabotinsky Street.

"If this is true, it's the best that could be," said Rachel Meskia, a member of the residents committee that fought the plan. "How much are we even asking? That we can keep the tiny bit of green that we have in front of us."

The municipality's plan originally called for the basketball court of one of the city's religious schools to be made over into an open public space at a later date to make up for the loss of the existing neighborhood parkland.

The proposal was fought by elderly residents of a nearby apartment building who have enjoyed the use of the small park for more than 30 years, as well as by the Israel Union for Environmental Defense.

The environmental group, known in Hebrew as Adam, Teva V'Din, said Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb, suffers from a serious shortage of open public areas.

"At a time when the shortage of open areas in the cities is on the rise, rejecting the plan sends an important message to the heads of local authorities, whereby the public will not accept the theft of public gardens and parks for the sake of political or real estate interests," said Yael Dori, who is in charge of urban planning for the advocacy group.

The park is a lone dash of green along one of Israel's busiest traffic arteries.

Residents of the area registered an official objection to the plan on the grounds that there were already five synagogues in the area.

The synagogue the city wanted to relocate is an old building that is currently in the courtyard of a school in the city.

The municipality says it is too small to comfortably hold the worshipers who attend and poses a safety risk because the crowd spills out onto the sidewalk.

But the zoning subcommittee said the synagogue should not be moved into the park, both because there are already not enough open spaces and because the space that was being offered in exchange was not equivalent and would not be immediately accessible to leisure seekers.

Even once it was ready, the subcommittee said, it would not be as easily accessed by the residents living next to the park.

"The panel is aware of the need to clear out the existing synagogue," the subcommittee found. "But it thinks this need must be met by a different alternative, one that doesn't seriously harm the population."

Ramat Gan city council member Ilan Meiri said earlier he found "it difficult to understand the motives of the mayor, as he works against the interests of city residents and strives with all his might to build over a public park."

The municipality previously said in a statement that Bar "was and is always guided solely by the good of the residents."