Millburn, NJ – Neighbors Protest Possible Resolution to Build Synagogue in Short Hills

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    Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky at his Short Hills home on Jefferson Avenue. Bogomilsky wants to fuse two adjoining lots, tear down existing structures and build a roughly 16,000-square-foot synagogue there. Photo Credit: Alexandra Pais/New Jersey Local News Service Millburn, NJ – A possible resolution to a 15-year dispute between a Short Hills rabbi and Millburn township officials – in the shape of a 16,000-square-foot synagogue – has roused stern resistance from a group of neighbors.

    Rabbi Mendel Bogomilsky and his wife, Rivkah, who also run the Chai Center for Living Judaism on Millburn Avenue, maintain they have only been hosting prayer services for friends and neighbors at their home on Jefferson Avenue.

    Township officials, though, say the Bogomilskys have been holding much larger religious services without the requisite permits.

    Plans for the synagogue, which would be built on adjoining lots off of Old Short Hills Road, grew out of an agreement between the Bogomilskys and the township following a number of legal actions, including lawsuits and countersuits.

    The lots, set among multi-million dollar mansions in the rustic Short Hills, would total less than 2 acres. The township’s zoning regulations, though, say that a house of worship can’t be built on less than 3 acres.

    The Bogomilskys’ requests to the township’s zoning board, though, have drawn the ire of a group of township residents who say that if it were approved, the synagogue would create an unwelcome precedent and allow other so-called beneficial use developments — such as housing and day-care centers — in areas not otherwise zoned for them.

    Aryeh Liwschitz, a Park Circle resident and a member of the Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn Township, said approving the synagogue could send a signal that the township is much too flexible when it comes to zoning issues.

    “We just feel that would set a bad precedent because other types of inherently beneficial-use properties could then creep into lots that are not zoned for them,” Liwschitz said.

    But an attorney for the Bogomilskys says the residents association — whose membership is at least one-third Jewish, according to one person associated with it — is using that rationale as a pretense for organized opposition to Orthodox Judaism.

    Philip Pfeffer said the residents’ opposition to the synagogue represents “a growing disdain” for Orthodox Judaism, one of the religions’s most traditional strains.

    “People just don’t want this sort of community in the neighborhood,” Pfeffer said. “They want to say it, but they can’t say it.”

    Michael Becker, a consultant to the residents’ association, calls that characterization grossly inaccurate.

    “It has nothing to do with religion,” Becker said. “If you wanted to build church or a nursing home on the same property, you’d have the same issue.”

    Until the zoning issue is resolved, which could happen as early as at the board’s March 15 meeting, the compromise calls for the Bogomilskys to keep prayer services at their Jefferson Avenue home small. In return, the township rescinded numerous fines it had doled out against the couple.

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    27 COMMENTS

    1. I only have one small, tiny, little and unimportant question; When was the last time Jewish residents opposed the building of a Church in their neighborhood????!!!!
      So far, everytime, anywhere Jews plan to build, expand or otherwise plan to establish a Shul or Hebrew school, there’s a firestorm of opposition. Can anyone answer this question?!

      • I don’t think too many new churches get built in residential neighborhoods. In all the towns I’ve lived in, I’ve never seen a new church in a residential area.

        • Its interesting to note: in Millburn/Short Hills the ONLY place that you are allowed to build a hose of worship is a RESIDENTIAL one! All 12 houses of worship in this town are located in residential areal. (this zone specifically aloud for shulls! they just have an arbitrary rule that if needs to be 3 acres. not to allow for parking or anything else! if the exact same plan proposed was for a private house, it would pass immediately)

        • Maybe everywhere you’ve lived there are already enough churches for everyone. And of course in many places Xians think nothing of driving 10 or 20 miles to church. But there are definitely churches in residential areas, and they must have been new once.

      • Duh! The reason for all of this is becuase Jews are the only group trying to shove schools, day cares and houses of worship on a RESIDENTIAL street! Why dont you look up what residential means, then you will have answered your own question.

    2. If they were playing poker every week instead of praying, that would be fine. We, in Monsey, have “been there – done that”. What the Rabbi needs is a federal law suit where federal laws will give “religious use” a preference. Unfortunately, litigiation is expensive but with a federal claim, the winner gets his legal fees reimbursed by the municipality when the municipality loses (and they lose almost all the time – if you fight ’til the end without giving up.) The Towns can keep the fight going for 15 years – they have unlimited funds. However, under the American justice system, the party that wins is the one who can outspend the other before one side throws in the towel. If, however, the Rabbi went “all the way”, he’d get his zoning permits.

      • If you actually lived in Millburn, why don’t you stop by the Chai Center on Shabbat and see how many long time residents of Millburn/Short Hills participate and want this shul. there is a real need and demand for this by LOCAL residents. its time that you guys come to grips with the fact that this is America, and we are aloud to legally build a house of worship of our liking.

        • With your liking? OK, So, I want to build a church RIGHT nex to your home. Parking lot, Sunday schools, the works, Satuday services all dany and night……..right attached to your proerpty line….its illegal, I dont have enough property, BUT YOU BETTER GET USED TO IT, because this is America. Do you realize how rediculous you sound? If not, I hope this helped.

          • “right attached to your property” – do you know how far apart the houses are from each other? do you know how much room for cars there is on the street? short hills isnt brooklyn, you dont have your neighbors breathing down your neck. its a five minute walk just to get next door. i live in millburn and am in short hills all the time. even if the chai center had services non stop every second every day of the week, a neighbor would barely realize it. dont forget the proposed building is on the corner of old short hills road, the main street in short hills, so its not like a significant amount of traffic will be added – traffic yes, significant no.

      • the “Concerned Neighborhood Association of Millburn” organization is a farce. On their website SaveMilburn.com the over-state that its not about religion but that they are against any zoning changes (becouse it would be a ‘precednt’).

        First of all: “oif der gavef brent der hitel” – they seem to be very afraid to be characterized as anti-orthodox Jews. so they say over and over “This is not a religious issue”.

        Second: if as they state that they are against ANY change, then lets take a look. this organization was founded in 2005 and they hired a law firm to represent them. since then, there ware HUNDREDS of different zoning application brought up before the “Millburn Zoning Board of Adjustment” – some much more dramatic changes then the Chai Center is proposing. Now, were the “concerned Neighborhood” people there to protest ANY of these applications? the answer is a resounding NO!

        so this is CLEARLY a religious issue and nothing to do with begin concerned about the zoning laws being changed. (after all, isn’t this the sole raison detre of the Zoning Board of Adjustment – to propose changes)?

    3. To # five. You were just lacking the other nine frum men to make a minyan. I lived very close to Millburn-I know how it is. Keep us posted after the shul is built and your property values double. Ill buy your how’s at currents market value and you will be put out of your misery and troubles.

    4. “Ill buy your how’s at currents market value and you will be put out of your misery and troubles”

      Maybe its because they are looking for a more intelligent group of yiddeshe neighbors who are literate and can write and English sentence. We really moved out here to get away from you but you follow us here anyway.

    5. There is a law that applies to this situation. In fact, the legislation (Religious Land Use and Institutional Persons Act of 2000, is federal legislation that has enabled new style evangelical mega-churches to come to Main St. and build tax-exempt houses of worship up and down Main St. USA. This legislation has had as much impact on Wisconsin, New Hampshire, etc. as it will have on NJ or NY. The law will apply to this situation, not any particular person’s feelings. However, don’t think about it as a Jewish issue. It is an issue that concerns the separation of church and state. Why should a House of Worship have an advantage over any other institutional use in a residential neighborhood?

    6. They don’t want a shul built on their block (a totally residential block) and that’s their right. It’ll change traffic, eliminate the quiet feel of the place. Next will be a sukkah built in the back yard. And a nursery school.

      Forget it. Find someplace where you’re wanted. I live near a shul that was built within zoning requirements. I think it’s a chillul Hashem to change beautiful Millburn into Teaneck or the Five Towns.

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