Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

Reform congregation wins landmark legal battle to build synagogue


September 14, 2018

Members of Kehilat Yonatan celebrating Simcha Torah last year.

Recently, JTA reported that a Reform congregation won a legal battle to build a synagogue building in the central Israeli city of Hod Hasharon, a wealthy city located several miles north of Tel Aviv. Former Orlando resident Lori Stein Erlich and her Israeli husband, Moshe Erlich, are members of this congregation.

Back in 2014, the Erlichs visited the Heritage office to share their vision of having a building for their Reform/Conservative congregation, Kehilat Yonatan (see the article titled "They have come-it's time to build" in the Sept. 26, 2014 issue of Heritage). The couple was in town visiting Lori's parents, Arnold and Nira Stein. The trip wasn't meant to become a fund raising campaign. However, after talking with Rabbi Steven Engel, they decided to share their community's need for a building.

After four years, the Lod District Court ordered the municipality of Hod Hasharon to halt delays on the project and to allow the synagogue to build on the parcel of land initially allocate to it in 2013 after repeated requests for a parcel of land on which to build the synagogue and education center.

"The Court ruled in our favour! The Judge (an Orthodox Jew himself) criticized the mayor and the town council. In his ruling he stated: 'I am saddened by the behavior of the town's representatives, including that of the mayor, who tried to avoid fulfilling their duty, primarily that of behaving decently,'" stated a congregant on Kehilat Yonatan's website.

The court also ordered the municipality to pay about $8,500 in legal fees to the synagogue.

Kehilat Yonatan was founded in 2001 as an independent Progressive congregation. It is named after the son of its spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Boyden, who moved with his family to Israel from England in 1985. Israel Defense Forces paratrooper Yonatan Boyden was killed in 1993 in southern Lebanon.

The congregation was represented by the Israel Religious Action Center, the Israel advocacy arm of the Reform movement. It alleged that the project had been subjected to excessive red tape because it involved the Reform movement, according to Haaretz. It first submitted a request for land for a synagogue building 15 years ago.

Hundreds of area residents attend High Holiday services at the synagogue and thousands attend lectures and other programs throughout the year, Haaretz reported.

"We provide a home for thousands of Jews who want to develop a modern Jewish lifestyle in a country crying out for religious pluralism and alternatives. Our educational campus, unlike any other in the area, attracts Israelis not only from Hod Hasharon but from all over the region. Through our creative approach we have been successful in connecting old and young, families and singles with their heritage," the congregation says on its website. It says that it has raised $1 million of the $2 million needed to build and furnish the 13,000 square-foot synagogue.

Christine DeSouza contributed to this article.


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