Ramat Gan Mayor Determined to Build Synagogue on Park Land

Residents slam city municipality's plan to replace rare spot of green along one of Israel's busiest traffic arteries with a synagogue.

A plan to replace a cherished neighborhood park on one of Israel's busiest streets with a synagogue were rejected Saturday by a subcommittee of the Tel Aviv District Planning and Building Committee.

The plan, which was being promoted by the Ramat Gan municipality, called for relocating a synagogue from within the city to the park, located at 101 Jabotinsky St. In exchange, the basketball court of one of the city's religious schools would be made over into a park at a later date.

Ramat Gan park - Nir Kafri - Oct 24, 2010
Nir Kafri

Despite the ruling, the fight against the plan - fought mainly by elderly residents of a nearby apartment building, who have enjoyed the use of the small park for more than 30 years - is not over. Ramat Gan Mayor Zvi Bar, a member of the district zoning panel, has submitted a request to put the issue on the agenda of a committee plenum session. The committee will rule on the request tomorrow.

"The municipality is on the warpath, as if we're the thieves," Rachel Mesika, a member of the residents' committee, said. "It's mocking the poor. I'm exasperated. The master plan has been there all those years, and now they come and take it for a synagogue. It's very hurtful. We don't seem to count. Where are our rights?"

Haaretz reported eight months ago on a letter sent by Bar to local residents, informing them that the local zoning board had decided to submit a new master plan for the area. Looking into the plan, they residents found that their neighborhood park was rezoned for public use, while the basketball court of a religious school in another part of the city had been rezoned as a park, although without indicating when the park would be built.

The park is a rare spot 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 city argued that another park was to be built nearby, in accordance with a different plan, and that the synagogue that was to be moved to the location of park was in a rundown, overcrowded building.

In a separate appeal against the plan, Adam Teva V'Din (The Israel Union for Environmental Defense ) argued that the city's plan called for destroying a prime public park without offering an appropriate alternative to local residents.

The IUED said there were few open spaces in the neighborhood even with the park. Yesterday the organization said it welcomed the subcommittee's rejection of the plan and expressed "regret" over Bar's decision to continue to pursue it.

City councilor Ilan Meiri called on the district committee not to overrule the subcomittee's decision. "I find 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," Meiri said.

The municipality said in a statement that another member of the district committee supported Bar's request for a plenum discussion. "The mayor was and is always guided solely by the good of the residents," the statement said.