A California Synagogue Leased Space to a Muslim Group, Telling Members They Had an Obligation To 'Strengthen the Bonds' Between Communities. Things Went South From There.

Hamakom synagogue leased space to Islamic group and covered up pictures of Israeli hostages

CAIR-LA executive director Hussam Ayloush (Twitter)
March 18, 2024

A California synagogue axed its leadership and is struggling to retain members after leasing its facility to a Muslim group that brought in an anti-Israel speaker who compared Israel to Nazi Germany.

Hamakom synagogue, a conservative congregation of around 900 families located in an upscale Los Angeles suburb, says it was trying to ease tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities when it decided to lease its space this month to the Islamic Society of West Valley, a neighboring Muslim faith group that needed space to hold services during the holy month of Ramadan.

Hamakom entered into an agreement with the Islamic Society that allowed it to take over the synagogue’s main campus, pushing Jewish members onto a smaller satellite branch. In anticipation of the lease’s commencement, the synagogue’s leadership covered up pictures of Israeli hostages captured by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, according to photographs reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon, sparking anger among Jewish congregants.

Soon after the Islamic Society began using Hamakom’s facility, it hosted anti-Israel activist Hussam Ayloush, who said last year that Israel did not have a right to defend itself following the Oct. 7 attack and compared Israel to Nazi Germany. The invite led many Jewish members to threaten to resign from the shul, according to internal emails viewed by the Free Beacon, and prompted Hamakom to sever its rental contract with the Islamic Society within days of inking it.

Hamakom’s two copresidents have now resigned from their posts and the synagogue is promising a "thorough internal review to understand the missteps taken and to implement corrective measures," according to a statement from rabbis Stewart Vogel and Richard Camras. The incident comes as Jewish communities in America face rising anti-Semitism across the country.

"Recent decisions, including our outreach efforts with the Islamic Society of West Valley (ISWV) and related actions, have fallen short of the high standards of excellence and inclusivity we strive to uphold," the synagogue’s rabbis said in their statement issued through a crisis management PR firm. "It's clear that these decisions have had a profound impact on our community, eroding trust and causing distress among our members."

Concerns started to percolate shortly after Hamakom announced to its membership that the Islamic Society would be taking over the synagogue’s main facility through April. Synagogue members, by and large, were not consulted about the decision.

"As part of our Interfaith Outreach efforts and through the relationship previously established between our two communities Hamakom is opening our doors to the Islamic Society of West Valley (ISWV) to hold evening prayers during the month of Ramadan," the synagogue informed members in an email earlier this month, according to a copy viewed by the Free Beacon.

"During this rental period," the synagogue said, Jewish members would only be allowed to worship in two rooms from 8 p.m. to midnight. Evening programs and Friday night Sabbath services were also relocated to a smaller site also owned by the synagogue.

"In this time of rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia," the synagogue wrote, "it is incumbent upon us to reach out to strengthen the bonds between religious communities in our neighborhood, recognizing there is more that unites us than divides us."

Soon after the rental agreement was reached, the synagogue draped dark sheets of paper over a wall of photographs commemorating the Jewish Israelis held captive by Hamas, photographs show. Community members were shocked the shul would black out these images in anticipation of the Islamic Society’s arrival.

While Hamakom's Jewish members were outraged by the decision to cover the Israeli hostages' photographs, the Islamic Society's, leader, Shaykh Suhail Mulla, told the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, that the move was appreciated.

"I think the gesture on their end was a gesture of, ‘We recognize that there are triggers for certain individuals in your congregation, and we don’t want to make this about that,’" Mulla told the outlet. "‘We want to make this about making you be able to worship in a way in which you feel comfortable.’ It was a gesture that they, on their own, initiated."

The synagogue's rabbis, in a statement to the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, said the decision to cover images of the hostages does not reflect their values as spiritual leaders, "nor the values of our synagogue."

After moving into the facility, the Islamic Society held an event with Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that has celebrated Hamas’s terror strike on Israel. Ayloush, like other CAIR officials, has claimed that "Israel does not have the right to defend itself" from Hamas’s terrorism and compared the Jewish state to Nazi Germany.

"Imagine we tell Nazi Germany: ‘You have the right to defend yourself against French resistance, or Polish resistance, or Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto.’ People would laugh at you if you said that," Ayloush was quoted as saying in December.

Ayloush’s appearance at the synagogue was the last straw for many members, who protested Hamakom’s decision to rent its space to the Islamic Society.

Shortly after that event, the synagogue emailed members to announce that it had terminated the Islamic Society’s rental agreement.

"It has come to our attention that there was a speaker this evening, Hussam Ayloush, who has spoken out against Israel and its rightful actions to defend its people," the synagogue wrote, according to a copy of that email viewed by the Free Beacon. "We cannot give audience to comments that denigrate Israel’s right to protect itself after October 7th."

For this reason, Hamakom "made the decision to immediately terminate its rental agreement with the Islamic Society of West Valley," leaders informed the community.

Now, the synagogue is promising to implement a series of reformations meant to regain trust with its membership. A public statement has been posted on the shul’s website, and the rabbis said in their statement that they are beginning "the process of rebuilding trust," which will include a series of town hall events with members.

"We are navigating through this challenging period with a clear focus on learning from our experiences and making the necessary improvements to prevent future occurrences," the rabbis said. "Our actions, moving forward, will be guided by the principles of accountability, inclusiveness, and a steadfast commitment to the values that define us as a community."

Representatives for the Islamic Society did not respond to a Free Beacon email and phone call seeking comment on the matter.