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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Battle over holding Jewish High Holy Days service

JUPITER, Fla. - Palm Beach County has one of the largest Jewish populations in the country.

In the next two weeks, two of the most sacred holidays in the Jewish faith take place: Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As Bruce Benson of Jupiter prepares for the Jewish high holy days, he's preparing for a judgment day of his own.

His old place of worship, Temple Beth Am, doesn't want him holding services that he’s scheduled at Jupiter High School.

Benson said, "There's enough Jews, as it were, to go around, but there's 85 percent that have made a conscious decision that synagogue life right now, doesn't work for them. I'm not willing to let them walk away untouched."

Benson is a cantor which is a prayer and music leader in a synagogue.

For four years he was under contract as Temple Beth Am's cantor, but left in June.

"The timing of it is very difficult. The temple tried very hard to bring this out earlier," said Temple Beth Am Vice President Brian LaBovick.

LeBovick says Temple Beth Am's fight to stop Benson's Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services aren't a matter of religion but a matter of what's legally right.

LaBovick said Benson's contract doesn't allow him to hold services in Palm Beach or Martin County for 18 months after leaving Temple Beth Am.

"We need to be able to reach out to our membership and not feel that there is someone who has deep connections within our membership trying to splinter a group away from that membership," said LeBovick.

In the meantime, Benson says his Institute for Jewish Living, an alternative to the normal Jewish setting, is growing.

He's selling his service tickets for 136 dollars each, while Temple Beth Am charge 225 dollars.

That's helping to fuel the back and forth so close to the holiest of Jewish holidays.

"Everybody knows Yom Kippur is the night where all Jews try to find a place," said Benson

This dispute will play out in Palm Beach County court, where a court-ordered mediator will make a final decision.

The mediation could be resolved as early as this week.

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