Rabbi’s house faces demolition over claims it is a synagogue

Officials say the house in Townson, Maryland, is not a private home as Mendy Rivkin claims


A US judge has suspended a controversial order to demolish a rabbi’s house in Townson, near Baltimore, that offers support services to Jewish students.

Zoning officers in the Maryland argued the house is a synagogue or community centre rather than a “home away from home” for students of Towson University and Goucher college who come for Shabbat meals.

But the building is also home to Rabbi Mendy Rivkin and his wife Sheini, who would be evicted with their seven children if the order — which claims the property was being used without obtaining approvals or complying with zoning regulations — is upheld.

Chabad, which vigorously denies the claim, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the US state of Maryland for issuing thea demolition order.

“We arrived in 2008 with the intention of opening our residence for the students of Towson and Goucher, offering them a spiritual home away from home while they complete their college education,” Rabbi Rivkin told the JC, adding they had been transparent with the authorities about their activities.

“Our fight is [about] more than preventing the demolition of a family home — it’s preventing the demolition of religious Jewish life at two institutions of higher learning where many came to study with the knowledge they would be able to comfortably live as religious Jews because of a Chabad on campus.”

While Baltimore has a sizeable Jewish population supporting more than three dozen synagogues, some local officials have been accused of ethnic prejudice. “Baltimore County and Towson in particular have a long history of discrimination, both racial and religious,” claimed Michael Kosowki, a spokesman for the Towson Chabad.

“Rabbi Rivkin is the only rabbi in Towson and protected by [law], but hosting people in his home for Shabbat dinner is somehow outlawed and punishable by having his home torn down.

“His house is not a synagogue but has been deemed as such by the county, which has never visited the property.”

Chabad said it had received support not only from thousands of students who have written to neighbours for help save the house from demolition, but also Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor Boyd K. Rutherford, the second most powerful politician in the state.

In a letter to the Baltimore County Executive, Mr Rutherford described the Rivkins’ home as “an invaluable resource for Jewish students” and “a safe space for them to meet and socialise with students of a shared background”.

A Baltimore County Circuit Court judge ruled last week that the demolition should be deferred until an appeal is heard.

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