Jewish community denounces private investigator outside University Heights synagogue on holy day
UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio – The presence of a private investigator sitting in an SUV near a local residential neighborhood pissed off some of his devotees attending Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services on Tuesday, September 7.
Concerns from synagogue visitors led Rabbi Eric Frank, executive director of Agudath Israel of Ohio, and Deputy Mayor Michele Weiss to voice their views on the issue at Thursday’s city council meeting (September 9) .
The private investigator was hired by the law firm representing the city, Isaac Wiles, in the city’s case involving Alexander Shul. The lawsuit revolves around the need for a permit to operate the synagogue inside the residence.
Addressing the board at the meeting, Frank said his organization had received several reports of a man sitting in a dark SUV parked during Rosh Hashanah’s vacation at Milton Road and University Parkway.
After seeing the man, Frank said, several University Heights residents contacted security with the Cleveland Jewish Federation, which patrols nearby temples in the area on Holidays and Saturdays, as well as University Heights Police. .
“It turns out that this person (in the SUV) is employed in some capacity by the city (of University Heights) to watch over the people of the city,” Frank said. “Presumably this is an ongoing legal dispute in which the city is involved with a family who lives around the corner.
“It’s an absolute scandal that we’re going to have, in the middle of this vacation – when there are hundreds and hundreds of people walking around, a huge security presence – and an unmarked SUV is watching the residents. . “
Frank noted that Orthodox Jewish law does not allow people attending services to use a cell phone or car, which could make them more vulnerable in terms of security.
“If this were to be done on Rosh Hashanah, federation security personnel should have been contacted, and maybe even a marked police car (should have been present),” he said.
Frank said mothers walking with their children to neighborhood services were “deeply traumatized” by the incident, and it was a “huge concern”, especially in an area where “there are many residents. Jews and millions of dollars are spent each year on Security. “
“It is unacceptable,” he said. “I’m not asking for an apology, although they should be provided, but we are asking for a commitment to provide appropriate government oversight.”
He called the incident a “sad example of (the) breaking” of the government’s responsibility to ensure the safety of its residents.
“I am not accusing or implying that anyone has bad intentions, but there is no question that this city could do a better and more intentional job here, and I want to make sure that this type of activity does not happen again. never again, ”Frank said. “And if residents continue to feel targeted or threatened, that in itself is a breakdown in our government structure. “
Weiss, after the meeting, told cleveland.com that the Jewish community is still aware of the possibility of anti-Semitic attacks. While a man sitting in an SUV may go unnoticed to some people, Weiss said, “The Jewish community knows full well if there is a person, a car or a package that shouldn’t be there. They are very aware.
“People noticed it and called the federation because federation vehicles go around town all day,” she said.
The Federation’s security team is well-trained and experienced, and consists of former FBI agents and police officers. “They are the security force for all of Greater Cleveland,” Weiss said.
Weiss criticized the city administration, saying that “our city council was unaware that, with the mayor’s permission, outside city lawyers had hired a private investigator to sit outside a worship one of the holiest days of the year. I personally apologize on behalf of the City Council for the fear and outrage this has caused within the Jewish community.
Weiss said the tactic chosen to obtain information “violated the trust and openness used in the past to mediate disputes that arise between the city and the community. The Council neither approves nor accepts that such tactics are appropriate for the problems that arise with any of the various groups that exist in our city. “
“A city should never spy on its own residents, and especially on one of the holiest days of the year for our Jewish residents,” Weiss said. “It is inconceivable that if it was Easter or Christmas it would even be considered.”
Legal Director Luke McConville, who did not attend Thursday’s council meeting, said the next day that Police Chief Dustin Rogers confirmed the police department and the Jewish Federation had been notified of the detective’s presence. private.
McConville said law firm Isaac Wiles was referred to the city by the Ohio State NORMA self-insurance pool, in accordance with the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (RLUIPA).
The United States Department of Justice created RLUIPA to protect individuals, places of worship, and other religious institutions from discrimination in zoning and landmarks laws.
Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan was not present at the council meeting due to a death in his family, and was subsequently unavailable for comment.
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