A court in Baltimore County, Maryland, has ordered that the Chabad Center of Towson be demolished.
And as fellow Jews we need our voices to be heard. Loud and clear.
The story of Chabad on campus is the story of a house that becomes a home. In every Chabad house, this story of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) and ahavas Yisrael (love for a fellow Jew) comes to life. It is a story that repeats itself at hundreds of universities around the world. Far from home both spiritually and physically, and searching for warmth and belonging, assimilated and disengaged Jewish students are welcomed into the open homes of the campus Rabbis and their families. These homes become their home, these families become their family, and these experiences lead a wary Jew to discover a newfound beauty in and a love for Judaism.
In Towson, Maryland this story began in 2008 when a young couple, Rabbi Mendy and Mrs. Sheiny Rivkin, moved to a house on 14 Aighburth Road. Their vision was strong, their goal in sharp focus. They took the physical edifice and opened their doors, making their home a warm center for every Jewish student. Baking challah in the kitchen, BBQ in the backyard, yeshivah night learning for those thirsty for Torah, Sinai Scholars, and of course Shabbat dinner every week. This home is bustling —bursting! — with Jewish life.
Over time, the house exceeded its capacity to hold so much. In desperate need of additional space, both for their actual family and for their extended family of Jewish students, plans were drawn up and funds were raised to expand this incredible house of kindness. Rabbi and Mrs. Rivkin worked closely with the local council and with neighbors. Plans were tweaked and public hearings were attended to ensure that everything and everyone was toeing the line. Chabad went above and beyond the legal requirements in order to make certain that everyone was satisfied. But unfortunately, our history has shown that satisfaction is not possible for some when there is a Jewish presence. As construction progressed on the new Chabad House, a neighbors’ association focused its efforts on preventing Jewish students from having a home on Aighburth Road. The neighbors and their attorneys, apparently fueled by prejudice, combed through old documents until a covenant that neither side had been aware of was unearthed. It stated that the house on 14 Aighburth Road had to be set back 115 feet from the street.
The neighbors and their attorneys brought the offending documents to court and demanded that the judge issue a stop-work order on Chabad’s construction. The judge refused, arguing that no irreparable harm would be caused to the neighbors through this construction. Chabad’s legal counsel, too, advised that construction move forward, as, in cases such as these, the worst-case scenario is a financial settlement that is mediated between the parties.
When the matter finally came to trial, after the building was completed, the judge ruled against Chabad, citing $17,000 of damage to the property value of the neighbor. Shockingly, the judge then said that the entire $1,000,000 building must be torn down to compensate for that $17,000 of damage to the property value.
Chabad’s subsequent request to spend $250,000 to move the building back 62 feet in order to comply with the covenant was also refused. To quote the neighbor, “Though moving the building would technically satisfy setback requirements, only tearing it down entirely would solve all its legal issues.” To which issues does she refer? Is it an issue to invite Jewish students to learn and shmooze? Is it illegal for Jews to live and thrive in Towson, Maryland? Is it an issue to spread light, love and kindness?
For a ruling like this to be administered in the twenty-first century, in modern times, is chilling. Legal discrimination is still discrimination and must be opposed.
We hope that the Jewish world and all people of good conscience will come together and protest to prevent this terrible destruction from taking place. America is better than this.
A campaign has been launched to help cover all the legal fees. Please go to towsoncrisis.com and donate generously.