City of Miami Beach settles discrimination case against Jewish synagogue for $1.3 million

The congregation claimed that the city had visited their property more than 126 times over a two-year period.

By World Israel News Staff

The city of Miami Beach has reached a settlement agreement, involving a payment of $1.3 million, with a small Orthodox synagogue that had filed a lawsuit claiming discriminatory treatment.

Congregation Bais Yeshaya D’Kerestir, which meets in a private home owned by Rabbi Arie Wohl, argued that their invitation-only services rendered the building’s usage similar to any private residence, and thus it should not be subject to frequent inspections.

The congregation, also known as the “Keristier Shteible,” claimed that the city had visited their property more than 126 times over a two-year period, allegedly to enforce various city laws, including pandemic restrictions on large gatherings, as per a lawsuit filed in April 2022.

The lawsuit also claimed that the city had installed a surveillance camera in 2021 that focused solely on their property, accusing the city of violating their First Amendment rights through discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement of zoning laws.

Miami Beach was “wrongfully discriminating against Plaintiffs’ First Amendment protected rights of religious exercise and assembly through discriminatory and arbitrary enforcement of the City’s zoning ordinances,” the congregation claimed.

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The city for its part argued that a religious institution was operating in a residential building, which was against the city’s zoning laws.

Despite these claims, the city agreed to settle the lawsuit to avoid a protracted court battle, paying the congregation $1.3 million, some $100,000 more than the purchase price of the home in 2020, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

As part of the settlement, the congregation agreed to certain conditions, including improving the condition of its driveway, refrain from using outdoor speakers for prayer activities – something never done with Orthodox synagogues regardless – and limiting the number of cars parked in the area outside the property.

Both the city and the congregation agreed on a new process to deal with future code violations, and the congregation agreed not to apply for a religious tax exemption for the property. Despite the contentious nature of the dispute, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber told The Miami Herald, “Ultimately, we do support the celebration of faith in our community.”