TI members fight to help mosque


Forty-eight years ago, Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman, former senior rabbi of Temple Israel took the City of Creve Coeur to the Missouri Supreme Court after the city attempted to block the Jewish congregation from building a temple in the county.

Creve Coeur cited zoning problems as the reason for the block, but Isserman triumphed in the case Congregation Temple Israel v. City of Creve Coeur, which has been cited over and over as a landmark decision for religious freedom.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Ferdinand’s grandson, Rick Isserman, told his longtime friend Khalid Shah, a member of the Islamic Community Center, about the case after the St. Louis County Council rejected in April the community center’s request to rezone a section of land in South County to build a new mosque.

Shah and Isserman have taken part in interfaith dialogue groups for over 10 years with the St. Louis organization Interfaith Partnership. And in the spring of 2006, the two friends began their own interfaith dialogue group called Confluence of Faith, which meets monthly, alternating between Temple Israel and the Dar ul-Salaam mosque in West County.

“[Shah] sends me an e-mail and says his institution has been denied zoning, and my institution 48 years ago was denied the same zoning,” Isserman said. “A landmark case. My grandfather stood up and said, ‘This is wrong. You can’t do this.'”

Area religious leaders, as well as state Sens. Jeff Smith and Harry Kennedy, both of St. Louis, spoke at a press conference last week, at the Islamic Center’s current location at 4666 Lansdowne Ave. in St. Louis. They encouraged County Council members to reverse the council’s decision.

The proposed 25,000-square-foot center would be located near Mehlville High School off Lemay Ferry Road.

Rabbi Mark Shook of Temple Israel said Isserman’s and Shah’s friendship was what led Temple Israel to get involved.

“Isserman was concerned and realized that this happened to Temple Israel before and that this should not happen again to anyone else,” he said.

Shook and members of Temple Israel wrote letters to the County Council, and on Tuesday, July 17, Shah and Isserman spoke in front of the council.

“This was just something, as friends, you naturally work together on,” Shah said.

Isserman echoed Shah’s feelings. “Sometimes you have got to draw a line in the sand,” he said. “The line in the sand for me was ‘you’re not going to do this to my friend Khalid,'” he said.

Isserman showed Shah how he thought that the decision handed down by the Missouri Supreme Court in his grandfather’s case applied to the Islamic Community Center’s current situation.

“The language is very clear,” Isserman said. “We do not believe our legislature […] had any intention of granting authority to municipalities to restrict location and use of buildings and land for churches,” according to the language of the zoning laws, he said.

“The exercise of fundamental freedom of religious worship, protected by the strongest kind of constitutional guarantees is the principal basis of our ruling. It’s in the ruling,” Isserman said.

Shah said the council’s actions might have been out of ignorance. “It may have just been a foolish political act, thinking [the Islamic Community Center] was just a nobody organization,” Shah said.

“This is a community that wants to be an integral part of American society, just like Temple Israel is,” Shah added.

St. Louis County Councilman John Campisi, one of four council members who voted against the rezoning in April, told the Jewish Light he could not comment because the matter is under litigation. Campisi represents the county’s 6th district, which includes the area where the mosque would be relocated.

Shook said he hopes the issue regarding the mosque’s zoning is resolved soon. “We hope the response out of the county is still favorable and they see the injustice,” Shook said.