Litchfield Connecticut: A Revolutionary War Town Erupts in a War Over a Religious Center and Synagogue

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Chabad of Litchfield Connecticut (Population ~8500) is trying to build a fancy new center that will house the rabbi, his family, a synagogue and a pool for the Chabad summer camp.

When the proposal reached the Litchfield planning board the center was denied.

The reasons cited by the board were mostly aesthetic. “The doors will be too big”, “The building will be a monstrosity compared to our small quaint homes”, “The Star of David may not comply with the historic district” etc.

Fueling the tensions are claims that the opposition to the center is anti-Semitic.

Without drawing comparisons to Park51 (Ground Zero Mosque vs. Downtown Manhattan Islamic Cultural Center: Video Debate) or the Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Lebanon (Maghen Abraham Synagogue in Beirut Lebanon: A Symbol of Tolerance), the issues raised in the spat are issues that go to the heart of religion in America.

In America, Religion is tolerated. In America, if yours is not the dominant religion, please keep to yourselves and don’t impose on the rest of us. In America, religion is okay so long as it is not “in my face”.

But for the dominant religion? In your face is totally fine. Prayers before sporting events, political policy in the name of “religion” and even laws that are rooted in a very specific Christian understanding of the bible are all part and parcel of the “American Experience”.

My opinion: Less “In Your Face” Religion from everyone would be quite welcome. Christopher Hitchens talks about the modernization of religion. This is vital to living in a world with more than one acceptanle viewpoint and especially when a competing viewpoint is right around the virtual corner. Religion can no longer be bully, it needs to place nice with the global community and respect all traditions and religions, even those who have neither.

I am no fan of blocking a Synagogue. Especially if and when it is fueled by anti-Semitism, but if it were me building the synagogue, I would try to fit into the aesthetic character of the community as best as I possibly could and be as unobtrusive as possible.

So, I choose neither side in this battle…

(link: LA Times)

  • A Member of the Lactose Community

    Phenomenal sketch of 19th Century Litchfield here: (also, not in this book much but this was the hq of the antidisestablishmentarian movement. BUT, Rev Beecher did a 180 and said that eliminating the state (of CT) church would be GOOD for society. When I read that history last week, I thought to myself “this is exactly like the chabad ‘it’s up to us now’ after the rebbe’s death”. So it goes full circle

    http://www.amazon.com/Most-Famous-Man-America-Biography/dp/0385513976/ref=sr_1_1?s=gateway&ie=UTF8&qid=1285647154&sr=8-1

  • Yankee Doodle

    as a Local Landsmen. Lets get it straight for the records The Synagogue was designed by Local architectures and the famous Local lawyer Peter Herbst, and it it conforms 100% to the town P&Z regulations. There are NO variances requested, no special exceptions. So the Historic commissioners really hurt our town, our image and the list goes on. The Actual Addition is 3200 SF, what any house of worship does inside, is their business,if they are conforming to P&Z, the historic policeman have to step out. The Judge will follow the law that the historic district did NOT follow.