Portland Jewish Community Sets Sweet Precedent

Portland Jewish Community Sets Sweet Precedent

At the rally outside Portland's City Hall Thursday evening.

by Baila Olidort - Portland, ME

August 22, 2008

(lubavitch.com) Months after a legal battle threatening Portland’s Chabad rabbi’s right to hold prayer services in his home, Rabbi Moshe Wilansky came out a winner Thursday night.

But even prior to the midnight decision by the city’s zoning board, Rabbi Wilansky saw the cross denominational support this case generated as a "historic" development.

An hour before the zoning board began its hearings, leaders of the entire Jewish community, including Reform and Conservative, and representatives of almost every church in Portland turned out at a rally led by the ACLU to protest the city’s ban on prayer services at the Chabad Rabbi’s home.

Protestors then joined Rabbi Wilansky inside City Hall. Hours into the hearing there was standing room only in the chambers, as a succession of religious representatives and Portland residents took to the witness stand to testify in support of Chabad.

Not one voice from the crowd was heard in opposition to Chabad.

Gratified and grateful for the unanimous decision by the zoning board, Rabbi Wilansky focused on the community-wide support Chabad enjoyed in this case.

“I feel it was truly a historic night for all the people of Portland. To see hundreds who came out from all religious faiths and from the entire Jewish spectrum—people who remained for hours late at night to hear the case and stand behind Chabad—that is tremendous.”

The case, which cut to the heart of the individual’s right to practice religion freely, was of obvious concern to religious people of all faiths. If the ban would hold, it might set a precedent threatening numerous Chabad representatives who do not have designated synagogues and centers, and worship at home with their co-religionists, as it would religious people of other faiths.

But to some, the outspoken show of support for Chabad suggests that sweeter change may be astir. After all, it’s not the first time Chabad’s activities to help Jewish people practice Judaism, have been legally challenged. And it won’t be the last.

Standing with Chabad in remarkable unity, the Portland community may have set a precedent. Maybe next time a Chabad representative finds himself at the mercy of his city’s zoning board, he won’t be standing alone.

Hopefully, others will feel as Caroline Braun does.

Rabbi of Temple Beth-El, the largest Conservative Synagogue in Northern New England, Rabbi Braun addressed hundreds at the rally prior to the hearing and said, “We can’t imagine Portland without Chabad.”

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