A new University Heights synagogue that faced opposition from neighbors and legal action from the city has shut down permanently, a board member said.
Chaim Cohen, a board member of Kehillat Heichal Hakodesh at 4464 Churchill Blvd., told the Cleveland Jewish News Feb. 9 board members intend to sell the house and the endeavor is now finished.
“It’s not something that, you know, the people want and we don’t want a fight, and basically we backed out,” he said. “This whole thing burnt us all down. We’re not interested in moving forward with this. I’m going to go back to my business.”
“We put the house on the market,” Cohen said. “We probably have multiple offers. We’re backing out of this house and it’s trying to actually shut this story down versus making it more than what it is.”
Synagogue services were set to begin the evening of Feb. 5, and the city of University Heights received a restraining order at 5:14 p.m. that day, blocking the synagogue from operating, University Heights Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan told the CJN Feb. 8. A second hearing was set for 2 p.m. Feb. 17 in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
Brennan said he has heard conflicting reports about the intent of the synagogue board going forward.
“They’re also welcome to apply for a permit, which they to date have not done,” he said Feb. 8
How it started
Documents filed in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Feb. 5, show Kehillat Heichal Hakodesh sent a Jan. 3 email to area residents under the heading “your new neighbors,” regarding the opening of a new synagogue.
“Over the course of the past months, we have engaged in a discovery process regarding the potential for opening a new address for Jewish learning and prayer in our growing community,” the letter reads. “With the help of Hashem and guidance from Gedolei Torah, it is with great anticipation that we hope to open Kehillat Heichal Hakodesh on Feb. 6, Shabbos Parshat Vitro.
“Because these details have just recently concretized, we wanted to reach out to the people in immediate proximity of the shul to create a channel for information and feedback. We welcome the opportunity to discuss any questions or concerns that anyone might have either in person or via Zoom, and look forward to an open and fruitful relationship.”
The emailed letter was signed by four board members, Itsy Boim, Shmully Halpern, Jake Pizam and Cohen, and included their telephone numbers.
Cease and desist
After that emailed letter went out to area residents, a petition signed by 27 residents was addressed to Cohen “and related owners of 4464 Churchill Boulevard,” objecting to the shul’s activity. The petition was first seen by Brennan on Jan. 27.
“We, the residents of Churchill Boulevard, request for the sake of peace that you cease your plans for a Torah center/shul on our block at 4464 Churchill. We support your mission to create a new place of prayer and Torah study in Cleveland. We encourage you to build a new learning center/shul that speaks to members of our growing Jewish community. However, as a residential block in the ‘City of Beautiful Homes,’ we strongly feel that a conversion of a residence to a house of worship in the middle of our block would be detrimental to our way of life and destroy the ambiance that makes up our peaceful street.”
The petition cites both city zoning requirements and references Torah.
It closes, “Please help us keep peace by establishing your shul in a different location otherwise, we will, individually and collectively, be forced to pursue all of our legal and/or halachic options.”
On Jan. 11, Luke F. McConville, acting as city attorney, wrote a letter regarding the synagogue operation addressed to “To Whom It May Concern.”
“The use or operation of the premises as a religious place of assembly and/or in operation as a shul or synagogue is not permitted under the city’s ordinances,” McConville wrote. “The city hereby notifies you that the use of the premises as a place of religious assembly and/or in operation of a shul or synagogue is prohibited.”
He ordered the use to cease and desist.
In his letter, McConville, who practices at the Cleveland law firm Nicola, Gudbranson & Cooper, LLC, also wrote, “The city has also been made aware that improvements and construction are occurring on the premises. The city has no record of any permits being obtained for any improvements or construction on the premises, as required by the city’s ordinances. The city hereby demands that you and/or any agents or contractors immediately cease and desist in the performance or construction of any work, improvements or structures until such time as the requisite permits have been obtained.”
In court filings, the city sought an order from Cuyahoga County Judge Andrew J. Santoli to allow the city to enter the premises for purposes of inspecting work.
On Feb. 3, David Pollack and Cohen wrote a follow up email to neighbors, saying they were trying to relocate.
“While we don’t want to be misleading by committing to an unrealistic timeline until we move out, we have identified several other suitable options that will suit our needs,” Cohen and Pollack wrote. “It is in our best interest to move quickly in order for our shul to operate, grow and function as a full-fledged minyan with daily minyanim. Some of you might have noticed the ‘For Sale’ sign that has recently gone up at the property.
“The house is currently listed on the market for sale. In addition to actively seeking another location for the shul and putting the house on the market to be sold, we are committing to only having minyanim on Shabbos and chagim (we will not have any minyanim on Purim or chol hamoed). We understand that you don’t want many cars clogging the street as is common during minyan times. We will keep any Torah learning during the week to a small group of members only so as not to cause any disturbance or parking issues on the street. We understand that you have doubts regarding our ‘true’ intentions … we fully intend to fulfill what we laid out above.”
The 3,816-square-foot six-bedroom, three-bathroom house is listed on
Realtor.com for $495,000 and includes a .37-acre lot. It last sold for $57,000 in the mid 1970s, according to the Cuyahoga County Auditor’s website. On July 10, 2020, the house transferred from Mildred C. Wieder and David Altman to 4464 Churchill LLC.