Saturday, April 22, 2006

NYC Rabbi says NO! to Condos

TJG: The Beth Hamedrash Hagodol synagogue is one of New York’s treasured temples – a Lower East Side landmark that has served as a house of worship for Jews dating back to the 1800s.But the future of the 154-year-old synagogue is in doubt.Its walls are cracking. Its ceiling is crumbling. Prayer books are rotting.Sensing a chance to profit, developers have begun to circle the building, offering millions of dollars to turn part of the temple into condos.Resisting such deals has become harder and harder for those who run such fading temples. Amid New York’s supercharged real estate market, temples with dwindling congregations that are forced to maintain large, aging buildings must decide – sell or hang on.“Taking the money is very tempting,” said Marc Angel, a senior rabbi at Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in North America, founded in 1654. “But the guiding rule is don’t give up on a synagogue. If you do, it should be given up to a good cause. It shouldn’t be turned into apartments or a movie theater. But in reality, it’s difficult for communities to always follow that standard.”In the case of Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum has shunned the developers, instead hoping to raise nearly $3.5 million to restore the synagogue. Developers, meanwhile, have offered to turn the main part of the building into condos while restoring a sanctuary in the basement.“I’ll hang on until the Meshiach comes,” Greenbaum says.......
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