A Brooklyn judge temporarily blocked the demolition of the oldest synagogue in Borough Park after members argued the sale of the building was based on misrepresentations.
Chevra Anshei Lubawitz, on 12th Ave. and 41st St. was sold for $3.1 million on June 14 to developer Moses Karpen, records show. The developer wants to demolish the building and convert it to a six-story apartment building.
Interior of one of the oldest synagogues in Brooklyn N.Y.
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.
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 to Karpen, who is a friend of one of the board members.
Supporters of the sale insist there was nothing untoward about the deal, noting the congregation will have a brand-new space under the arrangement.
“The congregation wanted to make sure that they were dealing with a developer that they had confidence in and was highly respected,” said Scott Mollen, the lawyer representing the synagogue’s leadership behind the sale. The board spoke to several other developers and had the property appraised by an expert before making the sale, Mollen added.But critics – who are seeking to block the deal in court – say the building was undersold by at least $1 million, based on another sale in the neighborhood.The purchase has been in the works for 18 months, records show.The board filed a petition with the state’s attorney general asking for the legal signoff to make the deal, records show. That petition argued the synagogue, which opened its doors in 1914, is “old, dilapidated, in need of extensive renovation and is no longer able to house” services.
Members opposing the sale say that’s not the case.
“There’s not a single violation on the property,” said David Shor, who has prayed at the synagogue for a decade. “It’s actually beautiful.”
The synagogue has stained glass windows, chandeliers and pews in good condition, a photo shows.
But Mollen said the roof is in dire need of repair, the bathroom is a mess, stairs are damaged and there’s a mold problem.
A commemoration stone on the face of the synagogue marks its 1906 construction date.
(COURTESY OF DAVID SHOR)
“There are major structural issues,” he said. “Given the small size of the congregation, it is not practical to raise sufficient money.”
The size of the congregation is also in dispute.
Those supporting the sale say there are only about 18 members.
Opponents contend that number is actually closer to 50. They note that there are two Friday night services during the winter months.
As for complaints that members were never notified, Mollen says the sale was brought up in two board meetings before a vote was taken.
One of the members against the sale admitted he attended three meetings where others talked about possibly putting the building up for sale, court records show.
“The congregation completely denies that there was a lack of notice and proper approval by the membership,” said Mollen.
But many say they only heard about it in June when the synagogue’s leadership announced the building would be closed for the summer while members were away.
“I’ve been praying at this synagogue for 10 years and am so upset at this ugly turn of events which has taken so many of us by surprise,” Shor said.
The legal victory for opponents of the sale may be short-lived.
Judge Marshal Steinhardt’s temporary restraining issued on Thursday order lasts until Oct. 16. It specifically allows the synagogue leadership to proceed with the permitting process required before the demolition.
“The congregation leadership thinks that today was very positive,” Mollen said, noting the next court date is set for Sept. 7.
Still, critics of the deal have faith.
“We are very pleased that the court saw the need to issue a TRO, which will prevent this historic structure from facing the wrecking ball,” Shor said. “We are confident that the court will see the merits of our case, and prevent the destruction of Borough Park’s oldest synagogue.”