In 2009, Congregation Shaarey Torah – popularly known as “The Shtieble” – began operating an industrial heating and ventilation unit on its premises. According to the shul’s immediate neighbors, 89-year-old Isaac Blum and his 87-year-old wife Rosa, the unit – which is located several feet from their bedroom window – constantly emits an extremely loud noise that disturbs their sleep, causing them to have to go to great efforts to plan times when they can sleep peacefully. “It sounds like a diesel truck is outside their window,” says Beatrice Blum, the couple’s daughter. “Not only is there a huge amount of noise, but it causes the room to vibrate.”
Acting on their suspicions that the loudness of the noise was out of the ordinary, the Blums hired an acoustic engineer to investigate the matter, and his tests confirmed that the unit’s noise levels are illegal. After the couple filed several complaints with the city, the Department of Environmental Protection issued the shul a violation, but – according to the Blums – when the Department of Buildings attempted to visit the shul and inspect the unit, they were unable to do so. Online records show that no one was available to let the inspectors into the shul.
The dispute is compounded by Isaac Blum’s contention that the shul had approached him several years ago with an offer to buy his house, so that they could expand their premises in order to accommodate a rapidly growing membership. Mr. Blum says that he declined their offer – and shortly afterward, the unit was installed and his troubles began. “I can’t help but suspect that the shul is doing this to get me to leave,” he says. “I suffered because of the Germans, and now I’m suffering from my own people.” Blum additionally asserts that, while the shul has offered to allocate considerable funds to install a sound proofing system, its leadership is asking him to sign an agreement stating that he would then no longer make any complaints about the industrial unit. Blum feels that this would unfairly force him to accept the situation even if he would still find the noise to be bothersome.
Speaking with the Jewish Voice on behalf of Congregation Shaarey Torah, Perry Newman – an active member who manages the shul’s website – claims that the house of worship has done everything possible to assuage Mr. Blum’s concerns, but the neighbor is just never satisfied. “Our unit is not working from 10:00 PM to 7:30 AM every day, when the shul is closed,” Newman explains. “That should give Mr. Blum and his wife ample time to get a good night’s sleep.” Newman further states that Shaarey Torah hired an engineer on their own to test the unit, and his results demonstrated that its sound levels are not above the acceptable limit.
According to Newman, the shul’s neighbor was lodging complaints against Shaarey Torah long before the industrial unit was installed. “He has complained that our annual Purim and Chanukah parties are too loud,” Newman bemoans, “and that the ritual singing during our Shabbos prayer services is too loud. In fact, we used to hold our Kiddush every Shabbos in our basement, but Mr. Blum felt that the noise from those get-togethers was so disturbing, that he unlawfully went and barricaded our basement windows from the outside so they could not open.”
In response to Blum’s stated belief that the shul is attempting to force him out, Newman scoffed, saying that – given the neighbor’s history of animosity towards Shaarey Torah – the shul’s leadership would not expect him to sell his house to them. And regarding the claim that the shul has not made its premises available for government inspectors, Newman says, “We did not deliberately avoid them; it’s just that we are not there during regular business hours. The inspectors need to make an appointment to meet us.” He also insists there is nothing wrong with the shul requesting that Blum sign an agreement to cease his complaints once it would install the sound proofing system. “We would have to make an investment of at least $25 thousand dollars for the sound proofing,” Newman points out. “Any home or business owner in Manhattan Beach would make the same demand. And after all, we are a faith-based organization that depends on voluntary donations.”
Speaking with the Jewish Voice, Deborah Weiss, Chief of Staff to City Councilman Michael Nelson, said that the Blums reached out to Nelson’s office to intervene and hopefully resolve the situation. “The Blums never complained about Congregation Shaarey Torah before the industrial unit was installed,” she alleged. “We went to the location ourselves, and the noise is really loud. The Blums just want to get their rest, but the shul has not even obtained the proper permits to run the unit.” In a letter sent to Shaarey Torah’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Moshe Plutchok, Councilman Nelson expressed his “outrage” at the shul’s behavior toward its neighbors, outlining the Blums’ complaints about the excessive noise and Shaarey Torah’s apparent unwillingness to address the issue. “I urge you to do some soul-searching here, and remove the illegal HVAC unit you installed,” Nelson wrote, “so that the Blums may be restored to their life of peace in their home during their twilight years.” Nelson also sent an e-mail statement to the Jewish Voice, in which he declared, “It is the goal of my office to help facilitate an amicable resolution to this dispute. I trust that the Congregation will do the right thing here.”