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16th Street Synagogue Fights to Stay

The old Union Square shul faces eviction in the coming weeks

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A decade ago, when the National Council of Young Israel decided to sell its headquarters on West 16th Street in Manhattan to a real estate developer, it seemed like everyone would come out a winner. The council would get the proceeds, the developers would get prime condo-conversion space, and the two synagogues that occupied the first two floors would get permanent rights over their respective homes.

Of course, New York real estate stories never work out the way they’re supposed to. The partnership between the developers collapsed into a protracted and bitter dispute, prompting one of the congregations to find a new home in SoHo. The other, known as the Sixteenth Street Synagogue, stayed put, and last Monday, congregants arrived at the shul to find eviction notices taped to the doors. On Tuesday, a New York State Supreme Court judge denied the synagogue’s motion for a stay. Sheriffs have told synagogue officials that, absent a stay on the synagogue’s appeal, they’ll show up January 8th to kick them out.

“We are not leaving,” Richard McBee, the synagogue president, told me this afternoon. “People are talking about sitting in front of the shul and linking arms if we have to. We are resisting.”

In McBee’s view, the situation represents a broken promise on the part of the building’s new owner, Jack Braha, to guarantee the synagogue’s continued occupancy. “It’s egregious,” McBee told me. “He’s going back on his assurances.” (Neither Braha nor his lawyer, Edward White, responded immediately to telephone messages.) According to McBee, the synagogue paid for repairs to the sanctuary after a construction mishap on the floors Braha was converting for residential use. “We were asked to contribute to the overall construction,” McBee said. “And now they’re going to tell us it’s not ours?”

The Modern Orthodox congregation, which has a tiny membership but a long history serving young families and students in the Union Square area, will have another chance to plead its case on Monday, when the court will hear an emergency appeal for a stay of the eviction. “I said to myself from the beginning that there’s no way a synagogue in New York City is going to be evicted,” McBee said. “This is our home and it’s worth fighting for.”

Related: Sephardic Jews Take Manhattan [Tablet]

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pkbrandon says:

Seems to me this is a legal question.
Does the congregation have a written agreement with the legal owner of the property?
They ought to know better than to do business on a handshake.

Hedy Lamarr says:

Buying bldg with church/synagogue always = trouble. Best bet for developer at this point is to make fair deal with synagogue, smell like roses and take small loss. If the community is well organized, this is not a good fight for the developer (politicians, locals, etc can create a headache). Doesnt matter what the court says or does. May affect ability to sell/rent rest of condos if this fight continues — regardless of eviction. Seen this movie before.

michaelh613 says:

When will someone ever demand National Council of Young Israel submit to an open audit of its books. Pesah Lerner the former VP who ran the group for years recently resigned very suddenly after years of accusations of financial improprieties. A full audit needs to be done to see if any money has been misappropriated.

michaelh613 says:

Would this problem have gone away if the attorney general Spitzer at the time would have not been wanting to run for governor.

The attorney general’s office also identified $130,000 in payments that went to the National Council’s executive vice president, Pesach Lerner, and were not backed up with contemporaneous documentation. The National Council provided explanations to the attorney general’s office for many of these payments, including $50,000 that was described as a loan to Lerner, and $25,000 described as an adjustment for sick days, according to the attorney general’s office. In the end, $20,000 was not accounted for and the attorney general’s office decided to hand the case over to state and federal tax authorities.

Read more:

Harvey Eckstein says:

It appears as if the two congregations believed that they should be given a permanent free ride, ie. should never pay rent. Why this is in any way a supportable supposition, just because a religiously affiliated organization makes it, is beyond me.

Shouldn’t a Jewish congregation, more than anyone else, live up to its ethical and moral obiligations to be honest and fair tenants? What right do they have to a free ride? The senior members of the congregations, the one’s that pursued all this litigation, bring shame on all religious organizations. Their conduct is both unethical and shameful


Harvey Eckstein


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16th Street Synagogue Fights to Stay

The old Union Square shul faces eviction in the coming weeks

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