Imagine you are the gabbai of a synagogue that has existed for more than half a century, loved by the community it is serving; that this is the place where you had your bar mitzvah or you had your first glimpse of the young man who became your husband.
Imagine this is the place where you and your family gathered for the prayers on all the holidays, where you have so many sweet memories of your childhood.
And then, all of a sudden, it is taken away from you.
It’s the place so identified with your community. But then, one morning, it doesn't belong to you anymore. You have been evicted. Within two months, you will have to pray in the street.
Yet there is no need to imagine. This is a real story and is happening here in our city.
The Chessed Ve’Emet synagogue and community center, located on Hatsfira Street in the German Colony, has been told it must shut down within two months, the result of an agreement between Mayor Moshe Lion and entrepreneur Shaul Cohen, who has purchased the entire plot of land where the synagogue building is located, for the sum of NIS 22 million.
The synagogue is the last place of worship for the Moroccan community in the German Colony.
The community members, a group of olim from Morocco, obtained the small building from mayor Mordechai Ish-Shalom 55 years ago. They never anticipated that the small structure, which has fit right in with the personality of the neighborhood over the years and had become such a welcoming part of the community, would one day be taken from them.
The synagogue has been a hub for daily prayers, Shabbat and festival services, bar mitzvah and wedding celebrations, and also for occasions of mourning. It had become a strong and consolidated community, with many continuing to attend services in the tradition of their fathers and grandfathers.
Currently, the congregation has seventy families and some more who attend on the High Holy Days. However, the whole plot is now designated for destruction, and will be replaced by construction of a large project of luxury apartments.
The structure of the synagogue itself is classified for preservation, though according to the community, the entrepreneur has submitted plans that apparently do not adhere to those guidelines. Meanwhile, the synagogue has to be evacuated within two months to allow for the construction. So far no alternative solution, permanent or temporary, has been offered for the seventy families.
According to Chessed Ve’Emet congregants, entrepreneur Cohen has already informed them that he plans to set up a synagogue for a different community, not of the Moroccan tradition, to serve the anticipated residents who will reside in the new luxury apartments.
Community members have started a petition, addressed to Lion, calling on him to provide an alternative place for their prayers and life-cycle events.If in fact the building cannot be kept by the community, they ask the mayor to provide the necessary funds to seek another location in the neighborhood.
“After all,” says Rapha Ben-Shushan, a veteran member of the community, “the municipality received a large sum of money from the entrepreneur, so I believe that this money should be used for the needs of the residents – and what could be more fitting than to help us receive another place for our community?”
At a recent emergency meeting with synagogue representatives, Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and city councilwoman Laura Wharton, both members of Lion’s coalition, were in attendance and heard the complaints. They promised to do their utmost to help. Hassan-Nahoum said that as her own family originates from Tangier, Morocco, she feels the municipality has to get involved to support the community. All present agreed that finding a solution to the problem is in the hands of the mayor.
“If Lion wants to serve justice here, he should first find an alternative place for the coming months and help provide a permanent location. It would be a pity for the last and only synagogue of the Sephardi Moroccan tradition in the German Colony to simply disappear,” said Wharton.
Asked to comment, a spokeswoman for Mayor Lion said, “As far as we know of the agreement between the entrepreneur and the residents, the Chessed Ve'Emet synagogue will not be destroyed, and will continue to serve the all worshipers in the neighborhood.”