Judge Saves Historic Brooklyn Synagogue From Demolition

Congregation members say they weren't informed on a deal to sell the Chevra Anshei Lubavitch synagogue's grounds to a developer

The Chevra Anshei Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn, New York City.
David Shor

A judge in New York temporarily blocked on Thursday the demolition of a Brooklyn synagogue that was scheduled to be wrecked to make way for a real estate project. The judge issued a restraining order after 17 members of the congregation said they were not informed of a deal to sell the synagogue's grounds to a real estate developer, and also raised concerns about the value paid for the property in that deal. 

The Chevra Anshei Lubavitch synagogue, located in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, was built in 1906, making it the oldest synagogue in the heavily-Jewish neighborhood. The New York Daily News reported that the synagogue was sold in June to a real estate developer who "wants to demolish the building and convert it to a six-story apartment building." The report also said that the building was sold for $3.1 million and that "as part of the deal, the synagogue would pay $3 million for the first floor and basement of the new building and use the space as a temple."

The Chevra Anshei Lubavitch synagogue in Brooklyn, New York City.
David Shor

The report explained that "seventeen members of the synagogue say they only found out about the sale a few days after it occurred. They contend two board members behind the sale made no effort to seek other offers and that the building was never offered on the open market before it was sold." These claims were denied by the supporters of the sale, who claim there were no irregularities and that the deal ensures the synagogue will continue to operate at the same location – just in a different building and setting. 

Yet the deal's opponents succeeded this week to convince a judge to withhold the demolition plans, at least until October. "We're very happy with this restraining order, but we want a full reversal of the sale," David Shor, a member of the congregation who opposes the real estate deal, told Haaretz. "Most members of the congregation were not aware of the sale, or invited to any meeting regarding a sale. I only heard about the sale 10 days after the deed transfer. Two members that did attend the meeting submitted affadavits to the court that there never was a vote on an actual sale. Rather, there was a general discussion about the possibility of considering a sale, and a promise that any offer would be brought up for a vote."

Shor said the synagogue is "a community shul which is inclusive and open to all Jews, and has a special atmosphere." He added that despite claims to the contrary by those who support the real state deal, the building is in good shape and should not be demolished. "It's a historic building with beautiful architecture. People would be very sad to see it torn down. Most members of the community oppose this idea." 

The president of the congregation, Chaim Waysman, sent a letter to community members recently, stating that there is a "media campaign" against the synagogue and insisting that there was no wrong-doing in the sale. "Contrary to media reports, proper notices and announcements were made," the letter said. "The Attorney General (of New York - AT) reviewed all details of the deal and approved the sale, twice."  Waysman also wrote that the building is "in very poor condition, and has been for some time now." 

Waysman wrote that "An outside group outside group fueled by opposition and the hopes of claiming the property for themselves after the congregation eventually dissipates has funded and organized the opposition to this deal." He ended his letter by saying that "we are grateful that the court has specifically ruled that we may go forward with the permitting process and finalize the legal paperwork." 

The next hearing is set for early September.