After a decade of opposition, a Florida synagogue longs for a place to call home – Washington Examiner

Posted By on August 21, 2017

Count me among the thousands of people who enjoy visiting southern Florida. On my first trip to Boca Raton, about an hour's drive north of Miami, I remember walking along the reef of South Inlet Park, waves crashing on the rocks, as local fishermen hailed me with friendly smiles and hellos. The city residents were welcoming overall, but I was there to expose how, for a decade, a vocal few have fought to keep the Chabad of East Boca Raton from building a synagogue.

I saw the empty plot of land on which the Chabad has received permission to build, overgrown and quiet; it is an eerie reminder of the decade-long opposition the Chabad has faced from a handful of its future neighbors. As I ambled by the plot, a woman walking home stopped me in my tracks. With surprise in her voice, she asked, "Oh, are they still building this?"

"Yes they are working on it," I answered. She raised her eyebrows and sidestepped me, walking quickly down the street.

Since 2007, the Chabad of East Boca is an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue that had been searching for a place to call home for its growing congregation. In 2008, the Chabad found the perfect location and started the process of obtaining building permits, which culminated in the Chabad receiving unanimous city council approval under a zoning law that gave all houses of worship equal rights to build.

But instead of commencing construction, the Chabad was met with a firestorm of opposition accompanied by vandalism, assault, and anti-Semitic bullying. One of the congregation's members, a teenage boy, was physically assaulted on a public street and told to "go back to Auschwitz."

This is especially ugly considering that, after New York City, Boca Raton is home to the second-highest population of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Local newspapers report that opposition to the synagogue has made this building project the most contentious in the city's history. It is unclear what could make a two-story synagogue so unwelcome in a location that already features 22-story high-rises, strip malls, and 7-Elevens.

When I met Rabbi New, the leader of the Chabad, he described the prolonged battle for religious liberty. He was hopeful but weary tired of the decade-long fight to build his synagogue, but determined to see it through. Solomon's temple was built in seven years, and the Chabad one has taken nearly 10. The opposition that the Chabad still faces comes from a small but loud minority, despite overwhelming support from the community, including the city council members who had unanimously granted the building permit.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm that defends people of all faith and is best known for Supreme Court cases Hosanna-Tabor and Little Sisters of the Poor, is defending the Chabad and its right to build. They've won twice, but are now in their third round of legal battles, hoping to end a decade of obstruction and claim long-overdue justice for the synagogue.

The members of the Chabad need and deserve an expanded place to worship. They desire the unity that a new synagogue would bring to their community. The new synagogue will be a beautiful addition to Boca Raton, a place where families and the community can come together. Members of the Chabad want to unite Boca for occasions like Bar Mitzvahs or Yom Kippur.

Just like other houses of worship built recently by Protestants, Latter-Day Saints (known colloquially as Mormons), and Muslims, the Chabad has a right to be there. The attacks on the Chabad not only threaten Jews that want it built, but all houses of worship. As a Mormon myself, I am all too familiar with discrimination that can follow a religion trying to worship in peace. Other religions cannot be safe if the rights of one are taken away. This opposition depreciates, devalues, and diminishes our nation's commitment to true religious freedom for all.

When the Chabad is finally built in Boca Raton, the residents will at last be relieved from years of conflict to practice their religion in peace. And when this happens, they will not only have won their own fight, but a fight for minority faiths throughout America living according to conscience. And what's more American than that?

Madison Brown was a 2017 intern at Becket, a nonprofit law firm for religious liberty, and is a pre-law public relations student at Brigham Young University.

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After a decade of opposition, a Florida synagogue longs for a place to call home - Washington Examiner

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