Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Fast Forward

An Orthodox synagogue is suing the city that tried to shut it down

The synagogue is a hazard, charge officials in a Cleveland suburb — with live wires hanging from the ceiling and no fire exits. Earlier this year, the city tried to shut it down.

But the Aleksander Shul, an Orthodox congregation in University Heights, is fighting back in court, and last month filed a lawsuit accusing the city of violating its rights to religious expression and harassing congregants by sending, on Rosh Hashanah, a private investigator to spy on it.

“On one of the holiest days of Jewish year, the private investigator sat for hours in a suspicious unmarked vehicle across the street from the Property,” the lawsuit reads. “Because of the recent rise in hate crimes against Jews, many Jewish residents and members of the Aleksander Shul were frightened by the presence of a suspicious man in an unmarked vehicle.”

Get our free daily news update.

The Aleksander Shul opened in 2009 when Rabbi Shnior Zalman Denciger began inviting neighbors to pray in his home, an unassuming house in a residential neighborhood. It’s the only option for many Orthodox Jews to pray in a minyan, the lawsuit reads, since they may not drive on Shabbat and certain holidays.

Earlier this year University Heights issued the synagogue a cease-and-desist order to block its operations.

But a Cuyahoga County judge in July issued another order that allowed the Aleksander Shul to continue to hold services on Shabbat and the High Holidays through Sukkot, with a maximum occupancy of 36 people. The city has alleged that the synagogue exceeded that limit on Rosh Hashanah.

Its mayor said he respects the Jewish community, but University Heights has a responsibility to uphold fire and zoning regulations.

“First of all this is a house, this is not a commercial building, this is not a house of worship, this house does not fulfill the building standards set forth by the state,” Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan said at a September City Council meeting, where some council members apologized for the investigator hired to watch the synagogue.

Brennan also said that he would like to resume negotiations with the synagogue and find a resolution to the dispute.

In the lawsuit suit, filed in federal court, the congregation asks that the city permit it to continue to operate, and for unspecified damages.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.