Century Village, FL - Condo's Turmoil over Makeshift Synagogue Spills Over
Century Village, FL - Jewish civil war brewing in Century Village took a road trip Wednesday afternoon to a Palm Beach County code enforcement hearing room, turning what is normally a sleepy venue of mostly empty seats into a mob scene of agitated retirees who tested both the limits of the building’s fire code and each other’s patience.
For weeks, residents of the condominium complex near West Palm Beach had been spreading the word to show up for the hearing on whether resident Issac Feder was improperly using one of the two condos he owns at Century Village.
Feder, 64, part of a small but growing sect of Orthodox Jews in Century Village, is a snowbird from Monroe, N.Y., who lives part of the year in a unit in the Kinswood building. But he owns another unit in the adjacent Golf’s Edge building, which he and the other members of his religious sect have turned into a makeshift synagogue for the past two seasons.
Men dressed in traditional black garb and formal hats walk from other buildings in Century Village to conduct twice-daily prayer services in Feder’s spare condo.
This has infuriated other condo residents, who are mostly Jewish but not Orthodox and don’t want their building turned into an ultra-religious house of worship. And they’ve complained to the county, which initiated a code enforcement action against Feder.
“It’s really not about zoning,” said Sam Koenig, 64, an Orthodox Jew who lives in a different Century Village building and is sympathetic with Feder. “This crowd doesn’t want this because it reminds them of an Eastern European shtetl, and makes them feel as if they’re going back in time.”
It wasn’t hard to find confirmation of that opinion.
“I see their women davening and dressing like they’re in Alaska,” said Frances Merel, a Jewish resident in a nearby building. “I don’t want to see it. They feel like the rules aren’t for them. They’re arrogant.”
Her husband, Maynard, chimed in: “If they win, I’m going to turn my apartment into a mosque.”
Aron Sandel, one of the seasonal Orthodox Jews who lives in Century Village, says most of his critical Jewish neighbors are overreacting to people who are simply practicing their religion.
“We don’t have weapons. No guns. Everything is quiet,” Sandel said. “In order to pray, we need a minyan, and that’s 10 men. Sometimes we have a hard time making the minyan.”
The group has shunned the Orthodox synagogue outside the gates of Century Village. Last year, when the dispute began, Feder said he was too frail to walk outside Century Village to pray, so he used his spare condo as a gathering spot.
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