Council committee discusses changes brought about by the growth of the Orthodox Jewish community in University Heights

UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – Days after city council approved legislation that spelled out terms and conditions for operating a home synagogue on University Parkway, Deputy Mayor Michele Weiss held a full council committee meeting on Thursday (December 9) for the in order to discuss the sensitivities and needs of the growing Jewish community in University Heights.

In the case of the Aleksander Synagogue, whose council agreed to allow it to function as a synagogue if the building was no longer used as a residence and the capacity was limited to 130 people, among other conditions, the congregation is composed Orthodox Jews, who do not drive on the Sabbath and visit their synagogue three times a Saturday. Because of these guidelines, Orthodox Jews must live within walking distance of their synagogue or synagogue.

As the city’s Orthodox community grows, homes have become more in demand in University Heights and house prices have risen, through October, to an average of $ 221,237, according to Zillow. That average price represents a 19.2% increase since October 2020. And, since many new residents are Orthodox Jews, they are looking to relocate near a synagogue.

“These are good issues to have,” said Rabbi Eric Frank, of Agudath Israel, one of the local Jewish religious leaders Weiss invited to participate in what was a roundtable. “It’s good for the whole city. I think it’s good when people want to live in the city. Normally you look at the economic health of the city by people wanting to live there. Raising property values, while it can be a challenge for people looking for housing, is generally viewed economically as a good thing. I think it’s a force we have to work with.

But, during the meeting, a theme arose that there were concerns that as the Orthodox Jewish community grows and its members buy houses, other cultures and religions will find it more difficult to settle in the city. to get closer to institutions, schools and churches. , they cherish.

“I think there is a bit of friction in the community,” Weiss said after the meeting, “but that’s why I called this meeting, so we can start discussing it and working together. “

Frank also believes there is friction in the community and thanked the board for holding the meeting to make the community work together.

“I think there has been a lot of conversation, noise about the different synagogues and the growth, and understandable concerns from residents and city officials,” he said. “The reality is we need to come together and find a way forward that meets the needs of all residents and tackles difficult issues. I appreciate the vice-mayor and the council members who participated in this.

The area includes a growing number of synagogues on Green Road in Beachwood, on the border of University Heights, which now number six, and two that now exist in University Heights – the Aleksander Synagogue and the largest Jewish center in Heights. , 14270 Cedar Road. Soon on South Green and Summerfield roads in University Heights, another temple, Congregation Zichron Chaim, now from Beachwood.

A real estate agent in attendance asked how many synagogues would ultimately be needed if the growth of the Orthodox population continued. While that number, Rabbi Nissan Abrin said, is not known, he said, “If you think there is going to be three (shuls) on each block, it won’t happen.

“Although we are forecasting growth, I cannot tell you that a synagogue will be built every three years,” he said, noting that it takes around 50 to 100 people to start a new synagogue. Abrin, who moved to University Heights five years ago, said there were no plans among Orthodox Jews as to how the number of synagogues might or might not increase.

Another roundtable participant was attorney and University Heights resident Yisroel Goldstein, who prays at several Beachwood synagogues.

“The Orthodox community at University Heights has more than doubled since I moved into my home 14 years ago,” Goldstein said. “I can’t give you exact numbers, but that would be my estimate based on the streets and houses that are occupied.

“When I moved into my house there were one or two Orthodox families in Elmdale and Bromley (roads). Now these streets have a lot more than that, and there are a lot of Orthodox Jews in Belvoir (Boulevard), and even beyond.

“When you go through East Carroll and Washington (boulevards), when I was looking for (a house), there were a few people (Orthodox Jews) in Washington and a few people across Milton (Road). There was no one (Orthodox Jews) on the Milton block, between Laurelhurst (Road) and Fairmount (Boulevard). There are a lot of them now.

Asked by the real estate agent about the possibility of adding a synagogue in the area of ​​University Square in order to further centralize worship, Abrin noted that the Orthodox community does not live so far to the west, where the John Carroll University occupies a large area, making University Square within walking distance.

Goldstein added that all communities change over time, depending on what is available to them in a city or its neighborhoods. People, he said, will move naturally to meet their needs, which University Heights is currently experiencing.

Many attendees declared their love for University Heights because of the diversity it offers to people of all religions and cultures.

“People are moving to University Heights, Shaker Heights and Cleveland Heights for diversity,” said City Councilor Barbara Blankfeld. “The different faiths and cultures are what make us richer.

When asked at the end of what he took away from the meeting, Goldstein said, “There needs to be more conversation throughout the community to facilitate a harmonious city. Right now there are people who see her as “my community in the city”. There must be more communities working together for the good of the city.

Weiss and Blankfeld have both spoken of resuscitating the Series of Discoveries community conversations program, which last took place in the city over 10 years ago, as a way to address current concerns.

Weiss said city council will review the city’s zoning code in 2022 and that will provide an opportunity to consider how to better guide the changes taking place within University Heights.

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