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School gets apology from city for Yom Kippur visit

Villaraigosa's action comes after two building inspectors interrupted services being held at the Hancock Park academy.

September 25, 2007|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued an apology Monday to members of a private Jewish school who received a pair of surprise visitors during Yom Kippur services last week: city building inspectors trying to enforce a curfew for events at the Hancock Park school.

While Yavneh Hebrew Academy was holding services for Yom Kippur -- which is the holiest of Jewish holidays -- in its chapel Friday night, two city building inspectors entered the lobby just after 8 p.m. and asked to meet with a school official.

But that official was in the midst of leading services.

The inspectors subsequently left, but not before riling some worshipers who believed they were trying to end services prematurely.

"For the government to intrude in this manner on a religious observance is offensive to our most basic and cherished principles," Villaraigosa said in a statement.

"We extend sincere apologies to the hundreds of members of the Yavneh family who understandably feel that their basic rights and freedoms were callously violated," the mayor said.

Apologies also came from other city officials: Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose 4th District includes the school; Councilman Jack Weiss, who is Jewish and has been an ardent defender of the school; and Andrew Adelman, general manager of the Department of Building and Safety.

Both LaBonge and Adelman said they didn't know about the inspection ahead of time.

The school has been the source of controversy in recent years, with some Hancock Park residents alleging it attracts too many people and is disruptive to the neighborhood. Amid many complaints, the city and the school last year agreed to new rules for the facility.

Among those were two provisions: only secular activities can be held at the school and no school events can go beyond 8 p.m. on Fridays, said David Keim, a spokesman for Building and Safety Department's Code Enforcement Bureau.

Keim said inspectors received a complaint from a neighbor several days before Yom Kippur that the school would be in violation of the rules on the holiday. That tip led inspectors to decide to visit the school that night, he said.

"It's not supposed to be used for a temple," Keim said. "It's supposed to be used for a school. . . . Our intention was to simply go out and make an observation and leave. We had no intention of disrupting a service there."

Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, the school's community leader, said he did not agree with Keim that services are prohibited at the school. Rather, the rabbi said, services are allowed under federal law that protects the right of prayer.

Korobkin agreed the school violated the 8 p.m. rule. He said it was because Yom Kippur usually does not occur on a Friday night -- the day varies each year -- and that he should have asked the city if Yom Kippur services could go longer.

"It was a sting operation," Korobkin said. "These guys were there a few minutes before 8 o'clock and chomping on the bit to go in there and say we were in violation."

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

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