Sunday, July 14, 2024

Boca Reacts to Crisis in The Middle East

“It’s been a tough time,” David Steinhardt understated.

Steinhardt is senior rabbi at B’nai Torah Congregation. It’s on Southwest 18th Street just west of Boca Raton. The Middle East always has been local news in this area, but never more so than over the last 10 days.

When news first arrived of the terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel, Steinhardt told me Monday, his congregants had a sense of “shock and near despair.” As the “level of depravity” became clear, it quickly became worse than “anything anyone might have had nightmares about.”

Rabbi David Steinhardt

Attacks on Jews are all too common. Acts of anti-Semitism have been increasing in Florida and the rest of the country. Despite that, Steinhardt said, the attack was “unlike anything that we’ve seen since the Holocaust.”

Steinhardt said a generation of his family died in the Nazi death camps. Many residents of South Florida suffered similar losses and are Holocaust survivors. The images from Israel put Jews, Steinhardt said, “in a very deep place.”

The attack has “brought the congregation together in prayer.” Last weekend was the first Shabbat service since the attack. Not surprisingly, many more people than usual attended. Despite “a bit of a pall” over the service, Steinhardt said B’nai Torah can offer “a feeling of closeness and words of hope.”

Even Steinhardt was surprised to learn of all the direct connections between his congregants and Israel. Many have family and friends in the country. Family members here who serve as reservists in the Israeli Defense Forces are among the 300,000 whom the country has called to active duty. Part of B’nai Torah’s work will be to gather donations and provide whatever other assistance Israelis may need.

Steinhardt made a point to note the support that B’nai Torah and others have received from “the Christian community. That has been really beautiful.” He correctly called it a “false equivalency” to compare the slaughter of children and hostage-taking to policies of the Israeli government.

“I hope and pray for great leadership on both sides,” Steinhardt said. “The answer must be peace, not violence.”

Boca police increase presence at houses of worship

Responses to the attack rippled quickly. The Boca Raton Police Department increased its presence at houses of worship, though a spokeswoman declined to provide details. During last week’s meeting, Delray Beach city commissioners praised Chief Russ Mager for the department’s prompt, similar action to protect against any local violence. On the agenda for tonight’s meeting is approval of a resolution in support of Israel.

Commissioner Adam Frankel has cousins in Israel. They live in Jerusalem, which is far from the Gaza border. “But you never know,” Frankel said Monday.

Frankel reinforced that praise of Mager by saying, “I counted at least six officers” at the Friday services of Chabad East Delray, which is downtown. In addition, Frankel said, City Manager Terrence Moore attended “and stayed the whole time.” Frankel added, “It was all very heartening.”

Randy Fine weighs in on Israel/Palestine conflict

State Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay, injected himself into the controversy over Hamas’ attack by calling for the expulsion of any college student in Florida who seeks to “justify the killing of Jews.” His comments come as Fine seeks to become Florida Atlantic University’s president.

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Palm Bay

In a letter Friday, Fine asked Gov. DeSantis to enforce a 2019 law designed to protect students and parents from anti-Semitism. It made religion a protected class under the Florida Educational Equality Act. Fine also called for universities to fire professors who express similar sentiments. A pro-Palestinian rally at FAU led to three arrests.

Fine said he favors enforcing the law only against those who supported “killing and harming of Jews,” not against those who expressed sympathies for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. But First Amendment experts told USA Today’s Florida Network that such an interpretation was a distinction without a difference and that such enforcement would present serious problems for the state.

Bobby Block is executive director of the First Amendment Foundation. “As someone with a Jewish background as well (Fine is Jewish),” Block said, “I get the passions that are involved—the anger, the horror —and Randy has a right to express this and to call for these things. But if the governor acts on it, we have a problem.”

Joe Cohn is policy director of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. “The First Amendment is the supreme law of the land,” Cohn said, “and must take precedence over any statute that contradicts it.

“Here, Rep. Fine is expressly asserting that certain viewpoints, necessarily and de facto, are discriminatory, and that’s just not how American case law has unfolded.”

State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues halted the FAU search more than three months ago, two days after Fine did not become one of three finalists to succeed John Kelly. Fine is the governor’s stated choice for the job. An investigation into the search, which Rodrigues ordered, is not complete.

Boca approves land-use changes in northwest

During last week’s meeting, the Boca Raton City Council approved major land-use changes to encourage redevelopment in the job-heavy northwest section of the city.

One is for the former IBM headquarters, now called the Boca Raton Innovation Campus (BRIC), on Yamato Road just west of Interstate 95. The other is for the nearby Park at Broken Sound, previously known as the Arvida Park of Commerce.

Each is a major part of Boca Raton’s economy. At 127,000 square feet over 125 acres, BRIC is the largest office complex in South Florida. The Park at Broken Sound, west of Congress Avenue and north of Yamato Road, covers 700 acres. At its creation more than 50 years ago, the park was a trendsetting light industrial research park, with the acronym LIRP.

But CP Group, which owns BRIC, wanted to add residential—which the old rules didn’t permit—and make other major changes to draw more tenants. Similarly, property owners within the Park at Broken Sound asked for updated regulations that, among other things, would allow medical offices and generally enable property owners to exploit the pandemic-driven surge of companies moving to South Florida.

Discussion of the BRIC ordinance got into a couple of matters that CP Group Managing Partner Angelo Bianco correctly called “quite esoteric.” Example: CP Group intends to redevelop the property in sequences. If, say, two of three buildings in a sequence were finished and “a part from China,” as Bianco put it, was holding up completion of the third, CP wanted to go ahead and open the other two.

An attorney for CP Group offered last-minute changes, to which the council and the company agreed. To concerns that buildings might remain unfinished for long periods, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte noted CP Group’s track record under its former name, Crocker Partners, and said the company “does not have a record of stopping.” Of the “billion-dollar proposal” for BRIC, “We need to let them do it.”

In both cases, the council allowed more development—the height limit within the Park at Broken Sound will go from 85 feet to 100 feet—in return for reducing dependency on cars. BRIC is near Boca Raton’s Tri-Rail station. The park features a shuttle from the station and within the park. The requirement for parking spaces within the park will drop by 15 percent.

Despite the potential effects, these changes were not controversial. Advisory boards supported them, and no waves of speakers showed up to criticize them.

Based on the comments, however, this is the most corporate-friendly council in some time. Mayor Scott Singer, who has touted the city to corporate recruiters, wants to change that LIRP acronym to Leading Innovation Research Park. Councilman Marc Wigder said Boca Raton has created “a culture of collaboration with our business partners” to “unlock” the city’s economic potential.

Boca finalizes Live Local rules

Last week, the council also finalized rules for projects submitted under Florida’s new Live Local Act that is designed to encourage development of affordable housing. Because the law cuts elected officials out of the approval process, the council required a 30-year oversight to ensure that builders follow through on commitments for such housing.

FAU men’s basketball ranked at No. 10

FAU Head Basketball Coach Dusty May

Fresh off their run last season to the Final Four, FAU’s men’s basketball is ranked 10th in the Associated Press pre-season poll that came out Monday. The Owls open their season on Nov. 8.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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