Cambridge mikveh plans are rejected

By Marcus Dysch, August 27, 2009

Plans to build Cambridge’s first mikveh were plunged into further confusion this week after a council rejected a rabbi’s planning application.

Chabad’s Rabbi Reuven Leigh had asked for permission to convert a ground floor garage and kitchen into a ritual bath at his Castle Street home.

But Cambridge Council planning committee turned down his request, despite the council’s own officials advising them to give the project the go-ahead.

Rabbi Leigh, who is also rabbi of Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation, said he would appeal against the “bizarre” decision.

The set-back is the latest in a long line of hurdles blocking the building of a mikveh in the city.

Last year, David Gilinsky, a trustee of the Cambridge Community Mikveh Charity (CCMC), took his fellow trustees to the London Beth Din, complaining of “procrastination” over a separate project to build a mikveh. There has been no movement on the matter for months, according to the Beth Din.

The CCMC was set up to fund the building of a mikveh and has assets of more than £185,000, according to its last available accounts in 2003.

Mr Gilinsky and his wife Ofra had offered land they own in Milton Road as an alternative to the Chabad plan. They obtained planning permission four years ago but were unable to persuade all the trustees to back it.

In a further twist this week, the Gilinskys left Cambridge to move to Croydon, south west London, saying they would now sell their land to the CCMC.

Councillors at last Thursday’s meeting considered six neighbours’ objections to Rabbi Leigh’s Castle Street project. They had complained about possible noise, parking, traffic and drainage problems.

The authority’s officers denied there would be disturbance, stating that only six to ten people per month were expected to use the mikveh. But councillors decided to reject the proposal.

Rabbi Leigh said: “There was some dissent from the neighbours. It was not clear at the meeting what the councillors’ objections were. It was all a bit mumbled. It’s a bit of a pain because it will be schlepping out even longer.”

He claimed that Mr Gilinsky had tried to influence Castle Street residents by telling them there would be dozens of users and that the Jewish community was not backing the rabbi’s application. Mrs Gilinsky had attended last week’s council meeting.

“My building is nothing to do with the Gilinskys’ project,” said the rabbi. “They have been a thorn in the side of our community since they arrived.

“I have nothing against them. If the CCMC decide not to give the money to the Gilinskys but to give it to me instead — when I have my permission —- then that’s up to them. I have no influence at all on the Gilinsky application.”

Mr Gilinsky denied he had interfered with the rabbi’s plans. He said: “I don’t know anything about the Chabad application. My wife went to the council meeting because she’s a mikveh user and wanted to know what was happening.

“I am moving to Croydon but am a trustee of the CCMC and will remain so. We are selling the land to the trust. It will put a mikveh there.”

Barry Landy, a trustee of the Cambridge Synagogue, said the majority of congregants did not regard Milton Road as a suitable site for the mikveh and were backing the Chabad plan.

l Separately, a Cambridge City councillor questioned whether Rabbi Leigh had breached planning regulations by using his home as a community centre. The rabbi said the matter had already been investigated “some years ago” and that the council had assured him this week that it was “still happy” with the use of the building.

Last updated: 2:21pm, August 27 2009