The fight for control of the Home of the Sages synagogue is attracting more media attention today. The New York Times posted a story online a short time ago offering another take on the high profile feud over the organization’s building at 25 Bialystoker Place.
As the New York Observer first reported, developer Peter Fine has agreed to purchase the building, a nursing home, for $13 million. Members of the synagogue, located within the facility, filed a lawsuit to stop the deal from going forward. While the state attorney general initially issued a “letter of no objection,” the AG’s Charity Bureau is now taking a look at the transaction, which also includes a parking lot behind the nursing home and the Bialystoker Synagogue’s air rights. The Home of the Sages board of directors, the Times notes, argues that the sale will protect the institution for years to come, while…
…Congregants of the Home of the Sages are charging in court that the deal is motivated not by self-preservation but self-enrichment: that the proceeds would largely flow to the president of the board, Samuel Aschkenazi, along with a Hasidic sect with no affiliation to the organization or the Lower East Side… The story of the Home of the Sages is more than just a struggle for the Jewish identity of a neighborhood, where some 500 synagogues have dwindled to barely a dozen. It is also a struggle among rival landlords, religious orders and communities.
The developer, Mr. Fine, said in an interview, “We want to do something very special for the neighborhood… I’m not sure if it will be all condominiums, or rentals. And probably some affordability.” A key figure opposing the deal is Baruch Singer, the prolific property owner whose father was the longtime rabbi at the Bialystoker Synagogue. The Times reports that Singer unsuccessfully lobbied the AG to block the sale of the synagogue’s air rights last year. He then got involved in the new legal action:
This month he joined a group of eight congregants who filed affidavits challenging the sale (of the nursing home building)… Mr. Singer said his only interest was in protecting one of the last bulwarks of Judaism on the Lower East Side. “I’m involved because my father was the rabbi next door,” he said in a brief phone interview. Mr. Aschkenazi says Mr. Singer wants the parcels for himself. “The challenges to the charity’s request to sell its nursing home building have been orchestrated by Baruch Singer, a real estate investor motivated by his own personal and commercial interests,” he said in a statement.
Last week, Fine agreed to build a new sanctuary within the new development. The parties are due back in court next month.