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]