DALLAS -- The Congregation Toras Chaim synagogue in far north Dallas is no stranger to legal action since it started using a residential home as its base of operation in 2013. Now, it's appealing its latest run-in with legality. The City of Dallas wants the property to have a certain number of parking spaces, but the congregation is Orthodox Jewish so they're forbidden to drive or even ride in cars to get to their weekly Sabbath services!
"Everybody who attends the synagogue lives literally within walking distance of the synagogue," says Rabbi Yaakov Rich, whose congregation has about 25 members. "Even during the week, since we have to live within walking distance of the synagogue we all live within a couple blocks. So during the week we have, at most, two cars in front, a few cars on the driveway in the back, and that's it."
The city wants the synagogue to have 13 off-street parking spaces to comply with commercial occupancy regulations, but there's room for only six. Rabbi Rich says the city suggested applying for an exemption, which he did, but then the city's Zoning Board of Adjustments denied the request (NewsFix left a voicemail for the board's chief planner but have yet to hear back). The synagogue is appealing the ruling and has also filed a lawsuit against the city for religious liberty infringement.
"They just want the right to worship in their home," says Chelsey Youman of the First Liberty Institute, which is representing the synagogue in court. "Just like anyone else has a right to meet for a Bible study, or for secular views like a book club or a game night."
The synagogue is prepared to continue fighting to stay open for as long as the court system allows, because its members can't just walk away if it closes. Due to their need to be within walking distance from their place of worship, the members would all have to move to another neighborhood to stay together.
"It would just about be impossible," says Rabbi Rich. "It's causing tremendous anxiety, tremendous fear [for] people to have to live with this uncertainty about what the future holds."
Hopefully the sides can park their dispute soon and everyone can move on!