Jewish Journal

Demeaning History

by  David A. Lehrer

March 4, 2010 | 4:56 pm

Exploiting the Holocaust and what led to it is reprehensible. It cheapens the tragedy and demeans its meaning and import.

Recently, there was a troubling example of that particularly egregious misuse of history in a local issue that has been fought in the courts for over a decade, the status of Congregation Etz Chaim, the synagogue at Third and Highland.

The dispute between the rabbi of Etz Chaim, Rabbi Rubin, his congregation and various neighbors and neighborhood groups has been written about extensively both in the Jewish Journal and the Los Angeles Times. It has been a long and contentious battle that has seen the case go up and down through the federal courts with the most recent opinion of the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals voiding a settlement agreement between the congregation and the City of Los Angeles.

In late February, at an administrative hearing, the Congregation appealed a Zoning Administrator’s denial of a Conditional Use Permit. That appeal was denied.

I am not about to recount the heated history of this dispute, the above links to the Journal and the Times offer ample background.

However, I feel compelled to write about a particularly troubling allegation which surfaced in the documents surrounding the last legal altercation.

In a letter to the Central Area Planning Commission, the attorney for the congregation recounts the background of the institution’s founders, their roots in Europe and their escape from destruction during the Holocaust. He concludes his recitation with the following,

The few survivors found their way to Los Angeles and commenced their Congregation again some 50 years ago, believing that in the United States there would be religious freedom. Now, they fear that the same Nuremberg Laws passed during the Nazi era, are taking hold in Los Angeles. (emphasis added)

Whatever side one may come down on in the interpretation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (the statute at the heart of this dispute) or the nature of the opposition to the uses of the rebuilt structure at Third and Highland—-there can be nothing but abhorrence at the suggestion that the legal system in the United States resembles in any way, shape or form what resulted from the Nuremberg Laws adopted in Nazi Germany in 1935.

The Nuremberg Laws formalized the stripping of citizenship rights of German Jews in order to secure the “purity of German blood.” Jews were in one moment transformed from German citizens to “nationals” with virtually no legal rights.

It is dangerous, irresponsible and incendiary to analogize laws that led to the slaughter of six million human beings to America and Los Angeles in 2010. It is wrong and has rightfully infuriated many of Etz Chaim’s neighbors, some of whom are Jewish themselves.

It is likely that this case will be litigated for months and years to come. Cheapening Jewish history and the meaning of the Holocaust by this kind of irresponsible hyperbole serves no purpose—it is inappropriate and wrong.


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