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This architect’s drawing of the proposed synagogue of the Sephardic Kollel Avrechim Foundation has been submitted to the City of Côte St. Luc.

Côte-St-Luc, Que. will open a register on June 15, which will allow eligible residents to have their say on whether to force a referendum on the proposed construction of a new synagogue in their neighbourhood.

The register will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 5801 Cavendish Blvd., second floor, to residents of the two small municipal zones affected and the adjoining area.

A referendum would be the final word on the project. But Mayor Mitchell Brownstein made it clear that if the minimum of 17 people sign, which seems likely given the opposition expressed to the project, the city will not proceed to a referendum, as required by provincial law.

Instead, Brownstein said city council will withdraw its approval of the rezoning that would allow the Sephardic Kollel Avrechim Foundation to build on its lot on Mackle Road, next to the Quartier Cavendish shopping centre.

On May 29, Côte-St-Luc council voted 4-2 to approve the final version of a bylaw amending the zoning of the land from residential to institutional.

By the May 25 deadline, 33 of 56 eligible residents had signed a request that a register be opened, a necessary legal step in the process.

The mayor stressed that if approval is withdrawn, the city will help Kollel Avrechim find another location, to which its leadership has indicated it is open. Brownstein said several alternative sites are being considered.

“The congregation is important and deserves a home,” he said, “and we will continue to work with (it).”

Moreover, Brownstein said a referendum would cost the city at least $30,000 “for no reason.… There’s no chance of winning.”

The issue has been delicate because the Montreal suburb does not want to be seen as banning a synagogue, or any religious institution. The project’s opponents submitted a petition with about 70 signatures to city council.

The city’s population is at least 60 per cent Jewish and all nine council members are Jewish.

The final rezoning bylaw was moved by councillor Sidney Benizri and seconded by Allan Levine. The first draft of the bylaw was adopted in March and a second version earlier in May by a 5-2 vote.

Councillor Ruth Kovac, one of the two dissenters, said she voted against the rezoning bylaw “not because I am against any religious institution. This is strictly a zoning issue.”

She thinks the lot is too small, especially if the congregation expects that it will continue to grow. Kovac, who earlier noted that she is sensitive to this issue as the child of Holocaust survivors, offered to personally help the congregation find a “better location.”

She suggested they might be able to find a location that’s closer to where most of its members live.

Architectural plans submitted by the foundation are for a three-storey building. In addition to Quartier Cavendish, the site, bearing the civic address of 6790-6792 Mackle Rd., is close to the Beth Israel Beth Aaron synagogue.

Kollel Avrechim, led by Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel, has been operating out of a duplex on Parkhaven Avenue for almost 20 years.

Kovac said she regretted that this matter is being “dragged” out and that it is “unfair” to residents to have them for a third time affirm their disapproval (she counted the petition and the request for a register as the first two instances).

Councillor Glenn Nashen, who represents the district where the zones are located, said he would have voted for the rezoning bylaw, but was unable to attend the meeting.

He blogged that, like Kovac, he believes this issue is purely over zoning and has “nothing to do with religion or support for a synagogue.

“We are a city of many religions, languages and residents of all backgrounds, even if the majority are of the Jewish faith. Some are very religious, others somewhat and yet others traditional or secular. We all live in peace and harmony in respect of one another, which makes Côte St. Luc an incredible place to live and to raise a family. Let’s be sure to keep it this way.”

Opponents of the project have raised concerns about increased traffic, noise and parking problems. They fear a second synagogue next door would lower their property values and mean higher taxes, because religious institutions are exempt from taxation.

Quartier Cavendish has also voiced strong opposition, because it thinks that people using the synagogue, especially during special events, would park on its property.

Rabbi Benoliel has said that the congregation would be respectful of those living nearby, and that their needs were taken into account during the planning of the project. At the urging of Brownstein, the leaders met with neighbours to try to allay their worries.


Sephardi and Ashkenazi groups to merge

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Sephardi and Ashkenazi groups to merge

By DAVID LAZARUS, Staff Reporter, Canadian Jewish News

Thursday, 18 November 2010

MONTREAL — The Emanuel Epstein Jewish Education Program (JEP) is moving out of its headquarters at 3133 Van Horne Ave. and heading to Cote St. Luc to become part of the Centre Chouva Israel.

JEP head Rabbi Eli Friedman and Centre Chouva Israel head Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel

The Emanuel Epstein Jewish Education Program’s Rabbi Eli Friedman, left, and the Centre Chouva Israel’s Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel

JEP is an educational outreach program that’s been a fixture in the Van Horne/Darlington district for more than 22 years.

The merger, JEP head Rabbi Eli Friedman and Centre Chouva Israel head Rabbi Yehuda Benoliel said in a recent interview, is a reflection of an increasing blurring of the language distinctions between those affiliating with JEP, which historically has had an Ashkenazi base, and the Centre Chouva Israel, which is Sephardi.

While Chouva affiliation is mostly made up of younger Sephardi singles and couples, Rabbi Benoliel suggested that English is increasingly the main language used by a growing number.

The Chouva centre location on Parkhaven Avenue near Kildare Road, he and Rabbi Friedman said, is also the logical destination choice for the merged body because of the growing number of younger Orthodox families who are now calling Cote St. Luc their home.

With the language question effectively disappearing, “the coming together of Ashkenazi and Sephardi is no longer the issue it once might have been,” Rabbi Benoliel said. “We will not duplicate each other. The cost will be much less, and it will unify the community.”

For Rabbi Friedman, the merger demonstrates a “true, powerful growth” in Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations. “It was important for the two of them to come together to bridge the gap,” he said, referring to the merger as a “partnership.”

The merger, he said, will take place over an 18-month to two-year transition period, with the JEP offices on Van Horne remaining open during that time.

JEP was founded in the late 1988 as a way to reach out to unaffiliated Jewish men, women and young people and bring them closer to Judaism.

It evolved into an elaborate series of program and activities that include sports, exercise and religious classes and social programs. (Details can be found at the website

The Centre Chouva Israel was founded by Rabbi Benoliel’s father, Rabbi Asher Benoliel, and has been at its current location since 1998.

The Chouva Centre Israel, according to its materials, serves 300 young families and offers numerous Torah and other educational classes for men and women, operates separate summer camps and Shabbat programs for boys and girls, as well as a daycare centre, and a yeshiva for CEGEP and university students.

The centre also operates its own kolel, called the Kollel Avrechim, and the Centre Chouva Israel has a significant amount of funds set aside for individuals in crisis situations. The centre, Rabbi Benoliel indicated, is also on a continuous search for more space to accommodate all of its activities.

JEP will operate as an “outreach” component of Centre Chouva Israel, Rabbi Benoliel said, and Rabbi Freidman said that while aspects of the original JEP programs will continue to run at the new location in Cote St. Luc after the merger is complete, not all will.

The merger was the initiative of Rabbi Friedman, who said that after 22 years, the time had come for him to lessen his own daily investment in JEP, although he intends to remain involved.

Over the years, he said, more than 2,000 people have attended JEP’s educational, social and sports programs, and many of them eventually became rabbis and teachers.

More important than the logistical advantages of merger, the two rabbis said, the fundamental, common devotion Torah values will guarantee the success of the new venture.

“It is the Torah culture which keeps our traditions alive, which is everything,” Rabbi Benoliel said.

The merger demonstrates the “true, powerful growth” in Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations,” Rabbi Friedman said. “It was important for the two of them to come together to bridge the gap.”

via The Canadian Jewish News.