Victory for Reform Judaism: Court Orders Netanya to Help Build Reform Synagogue

This originally appeared in the World Union for Progressive Judaism's newsletter dated July 28, 2011.

250px-WUPJ.svg.png The Reform Movement in Israel marked a victory last week when the Tel Aviv Administrative Court ruled that the city of Netanya must allocate a building for the local Reform community, which it committed to do years ago, and to renovate it at the municipality's expense.

"Following an intense legal battle, the Netanya community finally won the right to build a permanent home," said Rabbi Gilad Kariv, director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ). "This is a significant and historic victory for the community, and a testament to the dedication, perseverance, and passion that characterizes the work of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC)."

Orly Erez-Likhovski, one of the senior attorneys at IRAC, worked on the case for more than four years. "This congregation has been praying and celebrating together for about 30 years, but they have been forced to move around to find places to pray because the city of Netanya would not give them land to build a synagogue," she said. "The city claimed that there was no space, but their actions made it clear that the reason for the lack of space was that this was a Reform congregation.

"When the congregation in Netanya found space for a synagogue, they asked the municipality to grant them the land, but the municipality refused. The Mayor of Netanya refused to do anything to help the congregation for political reasons -- she feared she would lose the support of Netanya's Orthodox population," said Erez-Likhovski.

"Last week, the judge ruled in our favor and demanded that the municipality grant the congregation a building to use as a synagogue."

This is the first time a court has forced a municipality to give a Reform congregation a synagogue.

"We truly appreciate the contributions and leadership of the community volunteers as well as our colleagues at IRAC who represented us before the High Court and in front of City Hall," said Rabbi Kariv. "Gradually, our communities are able to build permanent residences, both sanctioned and substantially funded by local authorities. Our task is not complete as many of our congregations still pray in temporary structures.

"Nonetheless, this verdict provides support and momentum for the ongoing effort to establish sanctuaries throughout our communities. We hope that this year, the Chanukah candles will shine through new windows attesting to this miracle, and we congratulate our friends in the Netanya community on their legal victory," he said.

Click here to read the article in The Jerusalem Post.

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