Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
■ IS THERE a conflict of interests in the fact that the Municipality of Holon is consistently awarded a prize by the Council for a Beautiful Israel? A report that appeared in Haaretz this week stated that for years the CBI has received rent-free premises from the municipality, for which it is also exempt from paying municipal taxes (arnona).
The report states that for 23 years Holon has been named the most beautiful and sustainable city in Israel. Motti Sasson, who coincidentally has been mayor of Holon for the same period of time, this month once again received the Five Star award, which is the highest that the CBI has to give. Both the municipality and the CBI deny that there is any relationship between the award and the rent-free premises. The CBI even points out that its other branches also receive premises free of charge from various municipalities. An investigation by Haaretz into CBI’s financial reports indicated that this was not always the case. For instance, the CBI’s main education facility in Tel Aviv is charged a land tax of NIS 100,000 every seven years, and in Jerusalem it has paid the Israel Lands Authority for land rights for the site of a center for environmental studies.
■ WILL THE chief rabbi of Tel Aviv be left without a synagogue? According to a Walla News report, the chief rabbi’s synagogue, which for years was exempt from municipal rates and taxes, has been slapped with a retroactive bill for NIS 3 million. The reason? The synagogue board hired a marketing company, Shutafut Rega’im (Shared Moments), which brought a number of private functions to the synagogue, thereby turning it into a commercial enterprise. An appeal to the Tel Aviv Municipality to cancel the debt has so far been rejected. The decision to impose the rates and taxes was taken in 2013 after city inspectors came to the synagogue during an opulent wedding celebration hosted by wealthy businessman Amos Luzon, owner of Maccabi Petah Tikva. The inspectors learned that the synagogue had been the venue for gala events since 2012, indicating that it had changed its identity from a not-for-profit institution to a commercial enterprise. The synagogue board has told the municipality that it will have no option but to close down the synagogue if it is forced to pay such a large sum. That would leave Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau without premises that go with his status. The municipality initially wanted Shutafut Rega’im, which has exclusive marketing rights for the synagogue, to pay part of the debt, but for the moment the company, represented by lawyer Ronen Nawi, is in suspended animation and is still awaiting a final decision from the municipality’s appeals department.
■ MEANWHILE, IT IS business as usual for Lau, who is one of the most popular rabbis in the country. On the second night of Hanukka he was in the lobby of Ichilov Hospital, where many of the patients and their families had gathered for the candle-lighting ceremony. Lau wished each of them a personal miracle that they should fully recover from whatever it is that ails them.