Rabbi Sues Town for Right to Synagogue

HARTFORD (CN) – After seeking permission for more than 2 years to turn an old Victorian home near the Town Green into a synagogue, an Orthodox Jewish organization filed a civil rights lawsuit against Litchfield and its Historic District Commission. A Methodist Church sits two doors away from the proposed site of the synagogue.

     The federal complaint claims that the town used its architectural standards to violate the Chabad Lunavitch’s right to practice religion under the federal Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
     “In addition to burdening the plaintiffs’ religious exercise, defendants have made statements disparaging plaintiffs’ religious uses,” the Chabad and its rabbi say. “This targeting is the direct result of the defendants’ opposition to plaintiffs’ religious sect.”
     Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach claims, “This targeting has been based in large part on anti-Hasidic animus.” The complaint cites comments made by several people in town during the review of Chabad’s planned changes to the home.
     According to the minutes of a Litchfield Historic Commission meeting, its chairwoman “noted her own objections to the stone, which is not indigenous to the district, feels the clock tower is not appropriate, and the Star of David may not comply with the district.”
     An attorney for one of the selectwomen stated that the proposed improvements and use of the building should be reviewed as if it were a “strip joint.”
     Rabbi Eisenbach said he planned to replace the home’s slate foundation with stone from Israel and build a steeple to display the Star of David. He also sought to expand the home to accommodate a community center.
     It would be the only synagogue in this quaint New England town.
     The rabbi says his temple has outgrown its space in a strip mall, next to a Dunkin Donuts and a Senor Panchos. He claims that the small space limits not the practice of the Jewish faith, and has forced him to turn away parishioners.
     To accommodate its growth, the Chabad bought the old Victorian home near the Town Green. A Methodist Church sits two doors down from the proposed site of the synagogue. Rabbi Eisenach say says Christian religious facilities in the historic district were allowed to modify their building in a manner that exceeded what Chabad has proposed.
     Kenneth Slater of Halloran and Sage and Frederick Nelson of the American Liberties Institute represent the plaintiffs.

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