LOS ANGELES (JTA) – A request by a Chabad synagogue in Southern California to double the number of worshipers allowed for Shabbat services was rejected two days after its building was defaced.
Sheriff’s deputies are investigating the defacement of the Chabad of Oak Park synagogue, discovered July 27. The spray-painted words “Get Out Of Oak Park” were painted on the building’s front wall.
At a July 29 hearing, the Ventura County Planning Commission turned down Chabad’s request to more than double the number of worshipers now allowed in the building for Shabbat services.
About 100 Chabad supporters and 25 opponents attended the hearing, the Ventura Star reported. Chabad leaders said they would appeal the decision to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.
Chabad of Oak Park was established as a shtiebel 15 years ago in the rustic Conejo Valley community of some 16,000 residents in what had been a private home on a quiet residential street.
Under Chabad’s conditional-use permit, attendance was limited to 70 worshipers, but as the young families grew and hosted occasional visitors, space became tight and Chabad requested that legal occupancy be raised to 145 — a figure deemed safe by the Fire Department.
Neighbors who have objected to the requested modifications say the expansion will increase traffic and parking problems on their tranquil street. Chabad counters that most of its members walk rather than drive to Shabbat services.
The graffiti is under investigation by the Ventura County sheriff’s department, and the Ventura Star quoted Capt. Ross Bonfiglio as saying that if a perpetrator were identified, he would be charged with misdemeanor vandalism but not with committing a hate crime.
Rabbi Moshe Bryski, who oversees the Chabad of Oak Park, said in a statement that “Oak Park has been hospitable to our little ‘shul’ for more than 15 years. Bryski went to say that "the majority of our neighbors are truly supportive of Chabad’s presence in the community … as the only synagogue in the neighborhood.”
Neighbors Brad and Lenore Lewis have opposed Chabad’s growth plans, but told the Ventura Star that they were “stunned” by the vandalism.
“We only want to maintain the small neighborhood shtiebel we were promised," the couple said. "As Jews, we are doubly distressed that anyone would think of doing something like [the graffiti].”