Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok Kehillah Impacted by Bloomberg’s Ban on Religious Groups Renting School Space
Brooklyn, NY – For the first time since the Bloomberg administration adopted a policy prohibiting churches from renting space in public schools, a chasidic kehillah organization has been adversely impacted and was nearly forced to cancel a popular and important annual event this past weekend. Councilman David G. Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), who rallied against the change in policy before the mayor’s State of the City Address last month, is now calling on Albany to immediately pass legislation overturning the misguided decision by the Department of Education banning religious groups from renting public school space for services.
Each year, as many as 1,000 local Orthodox Jewish residents who are supporters of the Toldos Avrohomm Yitzchok Chasidus gather in Borough Park to welcome the Rebbe, who travels from Eretz Yisroel to Brooklyn annually for this event. The event, a Shabbos tish, is usually held in the rear yard of PS 180 at 16th Avenue and 56th Street. Greenfield normally facilitates this and other religious gatherings through his relationship with the Department of Education. However, Greenfield’s efforts to secure the location this year were rebuffed for the first time due to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to prohibit religious-based organizations from using any public school property for services, even though the groups only use the facilities after school hours and pay the same rental fee that all non-profit groups pay. Organizers of the Borough Park event scrambled to secure a new location and to redirect hundreds of attendees at the last minute.
A bill overriding the mayor’s policy decision was approved last week by the state Senate but remains stalled in the Assembly. Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration has gone to great lengths to keep this policy in place, including sending Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott to Albany to lobby against the bill, despite lack of support from city residents for this policy. A Quinnipiac Polling Institute survey earlier this month showed that just 33 percent of city residents think it is a good idea to ban the rental of public schools for religious services, with 58 percent saying it is a bad idea. Those feelings were reflected across all five boroughs, both major political parties, men and women, and white, black and Hispanic respondents.
In light of last weekend’s incident and the public’s overwhelming opposition to the policy, Greenfield is calling on leaders in Albany to immediately pass legislation overturning the ban, which has forced about 70 congregations around the city to find new meeting space in banquet halls, homes, and even in the street. The policy went into effect following services on February 12.
In a city that is supposed to celebrate diversity, it’s shocking that the administration would discriminate against religious freedom. The time has come for Albany to resolve this issue so that groups aren’t punished simply for their religious beliefs. I urge the Assembly and Governor to immediately approve legislation overturning the Department of Education’s misguided decision,” said Greenfield.