Kollel Rashbi Ari faces eviction

The sukkah, the booth in which Jews celebrate Sukkot, is made to be temporary, to survive, perhaps, a brisk windstorm, but is unlikely to stand much longer than for the weeklong harvest festival. In this regard, the wooden sukkah in the parking lot behind the Kollel Rashbi Ari, a synagogue in a narrow storefront on Pico Boulevard at the heart of Los Angeles’ “kosher corridor,” is no exception. When the holiday ends, the carpet that covers the asphalt floor will be rolled up, the cloth that lines the sukkah’s four walls will come down, and the tables and chairs that fill the space will be removed. 

But unlike the Persian-owned kosher butcher shop next door — whose customers will once again be able to park in the two parking spots currently occupied by the sukkah — the Kollel Rashbi Ari will almost certainly not go back to its day-to-day existence after Sukkot. 

Or, at least, not for very long. 

Last March, MCM Property Management, which manages the commercial property that is home to the kollel (Hebrew for house of study) first informed the leadership that it had 30 days to quit the property. The company stopped accepting rent payments, and the kollel’s current leader, Mikhael Maimon, said he stopped raising funds to make the $1,800 monthly expense. 

Instead, Maimon has lately been soliciting moral support from members of his community and beyond, in an effort to buy the kollel more time. 

In August, when the management company obtained a court-ordered eviction that could have been initiated by the Sheriff’s Department as early as Sept. 11, Maimon rallied supporters in opposition to the kollel’s being thrown out before the High Holy Days. After receiving a number of e-mails and phone calls, MCM’s office manager, Barbara Jager, told Maimon the kollel could remain through Yom Kippur. 

Maimon then objected to not being allowed to stay for Sukkot. So, there he was, sitting in the sukkah on Sept. 30, the holiday’s first night. In an interview, Maimon said he expected the kollel would be allowed to stay in place for the remainder of the holiday, and that he hoped it would be allowed to remain in its building until a deal on a new location could be made.  

“We want to move,” Maimon said, sitting at the head of the table while others cleared away the Styrofoam plates and leftovers from dessert. “But this is a synagogue. It’s not a group of squatters downtown.” 

Maimon said he had found a new space a few blocks west on Pico, though a deal hadn’t yet been finalized. 

The property manager of the current location, Martin Gurfinkel, said the owner wants the kollel out. 

“They were late on the rent all the time, just constantly late,” Gurfinkel said in an interview in early September, before Rosh Hashanah. “The old woman who owns the building really depends on the income.”

Kollel Rashbi Ari, named for two kabbalistic giants, is quite unlike other synagogues — and very different from most commercial-property tenants. A former art gallery and framing shop, the kollel was born in 1999, when Chaim Mekel, an Israeli painter who became religious late in life, decided to devote himself to a life of learning and converted his shop into a house of study. 

Mekel moved back to Israel in 2006, and today the kollel is supported in a haphazard way, with individuals stopping by to put a dollar in a donation box and local merchants and shoppers occasionally dropping off a few bottles of wine, bags full of challah and the occasional box of unsellable vegetables. 

Among the kollel’s regular patrons are users of the kollel’s private mikveh, a ritual bath. Constructed in 2003 without permits, its cold waters can draw between a couple dozen men on typical days, to as many as 60 before holidays like Yom Kippur and Passover, and the fees they pay are the most reliable source of income for the kollel. 

Because they come at unusual hours, often before the sun rises, Maimon has been living in the kollel, in a loft space someone built in the years before he took over as leader, in April 2011. 

But for Keith Levin, a former leader of the kollel, the people who benefit most from the kollel are the “lost souls,” individuals who might not be eating anywhere if they weren’t eating at the kollel. 

On the first night of Sukkot, about 25 people — all of them single, all but five of them men — came to the kollel for dinner. While there are dozens of synagogues in the immediate vicinity, many said they didn’t feel at ease in those settings. 

“For a single person, it’s a desert, once you get to a certain age,” said Sheila Ginsberg. 

Ginsberg said she has been coming to the kollel for more than a year. Asked where she will be if the kollel loses its home, she practically spat in disgust as she answered. 

“Home,” Ginsberg said. “Home, alone. Every Friday night.”

Pro-Palestinian student group sends Jewish students fake eviction notices

More than 200 Jewish students at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus received fake eviction notices from a pro-Palestinian group.

The notices were posted March 30 by the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, the Florida Jewish Journal reported April 5. The notices were posted to draw attention to the alleged number of Palestinian home demolitions by Israeli troops over the past three decades. 

Some of the students who did not read the notice carefully thought that they were actually being evicted, a Jewish student told the newspaper.

“We’re considering it a hate crime,” Rayna Exelbierd, 20, a Jewish student who received a fake eviction notice, told the newspaper. “The flier promotes hate; it doesn’t promote peace. People were scared by it. People felt threatened by it.”

The fliers contained the university housing department’s official stamp

“The recent mock eviction postings did not comply with the policies of University Housing and Residential Life or the Office of Student Involvement and Leadership concerning the distribution of printed material, and therefore the postings were removed,” Charles Brown, FAU’s senior vice president for student affairs, said in a statement.

Andrew Rosenkranz, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Florida region, said the university is going to open an investigation into the incident.

Netanyahu seeks delay in Hebron home eviction

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested a delay in the eviction of Jewish settlers who moved into an Arab-owned home near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

Netanyahu on Monday evening asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak for the delay until the several dozen settlers have an opportunity to prove in court their ownership of the house, the Defense Ministry said. Under an eviction order issued earlier in the day by the Israel Defense Forces, the settlers must leave by 3 p.m. Tuesday or they will be evacuated by the army.

The settlers say they bought the house and have the papers to prove it. Hebron Mayor Khaled Osaily told Army Radio on Tuesday that the sale papers are forged and that the person who sold the house to the Jewish settlers is not the owner.

The eviction order issued by the IDF’s Civil Administration says that the settlers’ presence in the home violates public order. The residents of the home, which includes families with young children, also did not request nor receive a required purchase permit from the Civil Administration.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of the Likud Party visited what is being called the Machpelah house Tuesday morning to express his support for the building’s residents. The Cave of the Patriarchs is known as the Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebrew.

“We are not making any preparations to evacuate and have no intention of leaving,” Shlomo Levinger, a resident of the house, told Ynet. “We plan to hold the Passover seder here.”

A special ministerial meeting to deal with the issue is scheduled for late afternoon Tuesday, after the 3 p.m. deadline.

Teriton ‘landmark’ status upheld but residents still face eviction

A contested Santa Monica apartment complex owned by a Jewish nonprofit, which had hoped to raze the property in favor of a synagogue and condos for Middle East refugees, has had its landmark status upheld.

But Teriton residents are still facing eviction.

The Santa Monica City Council voted 6-0 to back the 2006 decision by the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission to designate the contested Teriton apartment building at 130-142 San Vicente Boulevard as a city landmark, rejecting an appeal by owner Or Khaim Hashalom, or Living Light of Peace.

The June 12 City Council meeting, with councilmember and Teriton resident Ken Genser recusing himself, marked a defeat for the religious nonprofit, headed by Rabbi Hertzl Illulian, and its controversial plan to demolish the three-story, 28-unit, post-World War II garden apartment building and replace it with a private synagogue and 22 condominiums, including two low-income units.

While the building was rescued, the tenants, many of whom have lived there for decades, face a less certain future.

In April, they received eviction notices informing them that they must vacate their apartments within 120 days or by Aug. 8, or for those 62 and older, within a year or by April 8, 2008.

The evictions are legal under the Ellis Act, a state law giving landlords the right to evict tenants and withdraw from the rental business for at least five years. The tenants are regrouping and deciding their next move.

According to Or Khaim Hashalom attorney Rosario Perry, the nonprofit intends to file suit against the City of Santa Monica on the grounds that the landmarking is illegal under California Government Code Section 3736(c), which allows organizations to alter or destroy historical buildings under certain circumstances, such as economic hardship or hindrance of religious mission.

“We’re going to move forward,” Perry said after the meeting, noting that they can’t use the building as it is. “We’re not dead yet.”

City Voice: Will condo threat inspire unity among seniors?

More than 25 years ago, Los Angeles’ senior Jewish renters joined with young progressives and persuaded a reluctant city government to adopt rent control.

With condos rapidly replacing apartment units, a new crisis in affordable rentals confronts Los Angeles. But is this generation of seniors, victims of a huge wave of condo conversions, ready for another fight?

The old rent-control campaign was a great one, providing us reporters with many features about older Jewish people teaming up with kids young enough to be their grandchildren. With rents rising, low-income tenants were threatened with eviction unless they paid up. Many Jews were among them.

Some of the same conditions exist today. There are about 600,000 rent-controlled units in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Times, and they are giving way to condos at an alarming rate. About 12,000 apartments have been converted to condos or demolished — probably to make way for condominiums — since 2001. When condos come, renters are out.

It’s increasingly hard to find an apartment in Southern California. The Lusk Center for Real Estate at USC reported that almost 97 percent of apartments in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are currently rented. In Los Angeles, the USC group predicted rent increases of 6 percent to 7 percent. The average monthly rent there at the end of last year was $1,416. And most Los Angeles residents are renters. Only 39 percent own homes, according to the Southern California Association of Non-Profit Housing.

With rent-controlled apartments going fast, the City Council this month offered some help to beleaguered renters. It passed an ordinance, which Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed this week, that would sharply raise the fees developers must pay tenants who are evicted when rent-controlled apartments are converted to condos.

Tenants who have lived in their apartments for less than five years would receive $6,810 –or $14,850 for those who are older, disabled or have families with minor children. Residents of more than five years would get $9,040 — or $17,080 for the elderly, disabled and families with minor children. The very poor, with incomes 80 percent or less of the region’s median income, would also get between $9,040 and $17,080.

On the surface, the payments seem substantial. But actually, the money is only a bridge until a renter finds a place in the dwindling number of rent-controlled apartments.

Condo conversion is hot in Jewish neighborhoods, beginning with Fairfax and Pico-Robertson, extending west to Palms and Venice and moving across the Santa Monica Mountains to Sherman Oaks and Valley Village. There, the success of the Orange Line transit system is prompting many landlords to sell their apartment buildings to condo developers or to convert the buildings themselves.

Elissa Barrett, director of Bet Tzedek’s Sydney M. Irmas Housing Conditions Project, told me that “we have a steady stream of refugees … seniors, disabled, families with dependent children” coming to the agency for help. She said they are “displaced by speculation,” just as others have been displaced by fire or earthquake.

“The issue stretches upward into the middle class,” said Larry Gross, who heads the Coalition for Economic Survival, one of several groups fighting the condo conversions. They are seeking a halt to conversions while the vacancy rate remains so low and a stop to evictions.

Gross has been in this fight for years. In the early 1970s, he joined with other activists in the Coalition for Economic Survival, an umbrella group that has protested rising bus fares, utility rate increases and high milk prices.

But, while their demonstrations were covered by the media, the protesters could not make an impact on policy until, as the Los Angeles Times’ Stephen Braun wrote at the time, ” skyrocketing rents that accompanied Los Angeles’ real estate speculation fever in the late 1970s gave the coalition a ready-made issue.”

Coalition membership grew and a substantial number of the new members were Jewish seniors afraid of eviction from their apartments. They were an important force in persuading a reluctant Los Angeles City Council to enact rent control in the 1970s.

The coalition turned its attention to West Hollywood, then an unincorporated area under the control of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. The area was filled with apartments — and Jewish seniors. They, too, were threatened with rising rents and evictions.

When the supervisors refused to impose rent control, Gross and the coalition led a successful fight for incorporation in 1984. The new city government approved a rent-stabilization ordinance.
I asked Gross if the current generation of older Jews could be similarly organized.

“It’s different now,” he said. Twenty years ago, the seniors faced immediate threats of eviction with no protection. They could be forced out with just 30 days notice. Now, the rent-control law protects them from the hasty evictions that fueled the old movement

Yet as the condo conversions roll on, Jewish renters are joining a coalition of labor unions, homeless advocates and community organizers working in poor Latino neighborhoods, such as Pico Union and Echo Park.

These neighborhoods, with their heavy population of nonvoting immigrants, don’t have much political power. But the addition of a Jewish presence extends the coalition into politically active areas with more clout.

“They [the Jews] have a history of fighting against oppression,” Gross said. “They are stalwarts of labor unions. They are the glue that holds together the tenant organizations.”

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at bw.boyarsky@verizon.net.

Another Melee Erupts as Women Pray with Men at WesternWall

The forcible eviction of the worshipers from Judaism’s mostrevered site came as thousands gathered there to mark Tisha B’Av, afast day marking the traditional anniversary of the destruction of,first, Solomon’s Temple and, then, Herod’s Temple.

The men and women were worshiping together in aspecially-designated area at the entrance to the plaza, a couple ofhundred yards from the wall itself.

Monday’s incident was the latest confrontation between OrthodoxJews and members of the other branches of Judaism, who have beenlocked in a divisive debate in the Knesset over the authority of theOrthodox rabbinic establishment in Israel.

“They’re symbolically, and more than symbolically, driving us outof the gates of Jerusalem,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, director of theReform movement’s Israel Religious Action Center.

“Even in the former Soviet Union, Jews can pray in peace. To beexcluded from the most important Jewish place in the world gives ussome perspective on the issues. This isn’t about freedom of worship;this is about where Israel is going.”

Even as the police action occurred, a committee charged withstaving off a crisis over conversions, faces a deadline this week.

The committee, headed by Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, wasformed by the government to forge a path acceptable to the threemajor Jewish streams to avert the passage of controversial pendinglegislation.

Friday, Aug. 15, is the slated deadline for the committee’srecommendations, to be followed by the government coalition’sapproval by Sept. 5.

A recent unconfirmed report by the daily Ha’aretz said that thediscussions included a proposal by Ne’eman for the establishment of a”joint conversion school for all streams of Judaism.” The conversionitself would be performed in an Orthodox rabbinical court accordingto halacha. Such a proposal, the newspaper said, could be applied toother rituals, including marriage.

At the same time, the report continued, the Reform andConservative synagogues would, for the first time, receive governmentfunding “similar to those of Orthodox synagogues.” — Compiled fromWire Services