Englewood, NJ: The City that has Problems with Synagogues (VIDEO)

November 13, 2012 4:29 pm 0 comments

City of Englewood New Jersey officials. Photo: Cityofenglewood.com.

My congressional campaign is over, but one of the main reasons I ran remains. What first impelled me to seek public office was the feeling of powerlessness to stop Muammar Gaddafi from coming to stay in the home immediately next door to me in Englewood, NJ, in the autumn of 2009. And though we ultimately succeeded, with God’s blessing, in pushing him out, I could not persuade my city to challenge the tax exemption of an international terrorist which forced me, and all the other residents of Englewood, to be complicit in evil in having to subsidize a murderous government’s compound in our midst. (The staff living there did not have the decency to even once lower their flag to half-staff in the wake of the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi.)

If only my city were to treat me with the same courtesy they accorded Gaddafi.

For the past year my congregants and I have been locked in a bitter struggle with Englewood to get our home properly zoned as a Synagogue. We have hosted prayer, religious services, and educational events for more than 13 years, but the city continues to cite us as requiring a variance in order to host communal worship. The same city that could not, for three decades, muster the courage to challenge the Libyans’ tax-exempt presence in our town has obstructed a fair hearing of our congregants’ right to establish a house of worship. As the Chairman of our Board, Michael Fromm, has put it, “It’s an outrage. We have had hearings canceled for nefarious reasons, the rules have been changed mid-game, city officials have abused their power to thwart us, board members have publicly displayed prejudice against us, and we have been held to a higher standard than international terrorists.”

The city’s efforts to block our Synagogue application have been brazen. First, they canceled our hearing at the Board of Adjustment – for which we had prepared for months at considerable expense – on the very same day it was to take place on October 24, 2011. Then, after having our hearing unlawfully canceled by one Board, we spent thousands more to ready ourselves for a hearing at the Planning Board, appointed and overseen by the City’s mayor, Frank Huttle. Unbelievably, they too found a legal loophole to deny us from even being heard. The full video of the hearing is posted below and you may draw your own conclusions as to the fairness of their arguments and vote.

So, thousands of dollars later we were back at the Board of Adjustment for a hearing scheduled for May 21, 2012. Then, just a week before the hearing we were forwarded a letter, authored by Ken Albert, the City Engineer, dated March 27, 2012, that demanded, for the first time, a host of new improvements in order for us to even qualify for the hearing. Bizarrely, the city stamped his letter April 24th, 2012, suggesting they had sat on the letter for a full month prior to forwarding it, thereby making it impossible for our hearing to go ahead as planned.

We acquired a new date of June 25, 2012 only to have that hearing canceled by Chairwoman Rosemary Byrne a mere four hours before it was scheduled, wasting thousands more of our organization’s money. Was the city’s strategy to have us squander all our funds without even a hearing so that we would throw in the towel?

We finally decided to go public about the many obstacles and cancellations thrown in our path for the creation of a House of Worship, while leaving the Libyans to live peacefully at Englewood taxpayer expense. We also prepared a Federal lawsuit against the city under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Once the newspaper reports appeared, we were granted a hearing.

We’ve had two since. Unfortunately, the hearings have been characterized by what would seem to be a predetermined outcome. A simple read of the transcripts provides a great deal of illumination, with one board member in particular, Harry Reidler, seeming particularly vexed by our application.

Reidler, who is a member of the local Democratic Municipal Committee, several times raised my Congressional bid in the district (Republican) even though it was never germane to our Synagogue’s application. When, for the first time, he brought up my race for Congress he was interrupted three times by the Chairwoman and told, “Wait.” Still he objected, saying “…I mean, we know that this Rabbi is running for Congress.”

Englewood has an unfortunate history of making life difficult for Houses of Worship receiving proper zoning. The highly successful East Hill Synagogue, for example, had to sue the city in Federal court just to be built.  It then had to sue again for the ability to put up and use outdoor tents for Jewish celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs, which presumably are not as dangerous as Gaddafi being your neighbor.

The City of Englewood’s 2013 master plan, contained on its official website, actually states that it will look in depth at “how many,” “where,” and any new “plans for expansion (including in people’s homes)” of any and all houses of worship. It will also study what the “impact on City revenue” will be based on places of worship.

The city, one might presume, is concerned about its revenue base being compromised by Houses of Worship. But then, why was it not similarly concerned at the immense loss of revenue from the Libyan house of terror for three decades? Why did the city not sue Gaddafi to pay his taxes even after he started slaughtering his own people and was declared to be an illegitimate government by the Obama Administration?

Then there is this. On November 15, 2011, the Englewood City Council actually voted (you can’t make this stuff up) on whether to take nearly a million dollars of back taxes owed by the Libyan Mission in Englewood – which accumulated from 1985 to 1998 – off its books. For now, due to a tie-breaking vote cast by the Mayor, the debt has not been canceled, pending a further meeting of the city council.

Our Synagogue has another hearing coming up with the Board of Adjustment. Our Attorney has told us that, given the hostility to date, we should not expect much fairness. But for the people who attend our services, many of whom are new to regular Synagogue attendance now that they have found a more intimate environment within which to worship, the fight goes on for religious liberty and expression, whatever the obstacles.

Video of Englewood hearing is below:

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America,” is the international best-selling author of 29 books, and will shortly publish “The Fed-up Man of Faith: Challenging G-d in the Face of Tragedy and Suffering.” His website is www.shmuley.com. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.


Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    How Jewish Television Pioneer Milton Berle Inspired Modern Comedy Stars

    JNS.org – Today’s comedy superstars, especially those whose careers are driven by television, may very well owe their success to pioneering Jewish entertainer Milton Berle. Born Mendel Berlinger in Manhattan in 1908, Berle became America’s first small-screen star. Aptly nicknamed “Mr. Television,” he influenced and helped promote the work of hundreds of younger comics. “Milton Berle was deceptively successful and very Jewish,” says Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile: The Story of Jewish Comedians in America, published the year [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    Jewish ‘Hoops Whisperer’ a Secret Weapon for NBA Stars

    JNS.org – Idan Ravin’s friends chipped in to buy him a humble but life-changing bar mitzvah gift—a basketball hoop his father attached to the roof of his garage. Little did his friends know that years later, he would be the personal trainer of National Basketball Association (NBA) stars Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, and Stephen Curry. Ravin’s new book, “The Hoops Whisperer: On the Court and Inside the Head of Basketball’s Best Players,” details his rise from a Jewish upbringing [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the morale of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.