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Historic NYC Synagogue Fights Foreclosure

Manhattan congregation home to Holocaust survivors faces uncertain future

Hannah Dreyfus
April 29, 2014

A historic synagogue in Washington Heights is on the brink of foreclosure, the New York Times reports. The Fort Tryon Jewish Center, perched at the edge of a cliff between Fort Washington Avenue and Overlook Terrace, was founded in 1938 and served as the spiritual home for many Holocaust survivors who immigrated to the United States and settled in New York.

The once magnificent house of worship has since fallen into disrepair. For the past five years, the synagogue has been completely out of commission, its members gathering for Shabbat services at a nearby Catholic school. But even this temporary arrangement is indefinite—Mayor de Blasio recently announced that a new charter school would be housed there, throwing the future of congregants into further uncertainty.

The synagogue’s financial peril began with a real estate deal several years ago that devolved into an extended fight with the bank when housing market took a downturn. Rutherford Thompson, an apartment rehabber, bought 39,000 square feet of air rights for $2 million in exchange for a promise to rebuild the synagogue (minus the sanctuary). Thompson, who had already bought the land on both sides of the building, intended to build a 23-story condominium tower.

Work on the synagogue began in 2008. But when the housing bubble burst later that year, Thompson lost his loan servicer, and the building was left in disarray, with congregants forced to abandon their long-time home. Today, Thompson is fighting the bank’s attempt to foreclose on the property.

David Libchaber, president of the Jewish Center, told the Times, “This congregation has been through so much — it was founded by people fleeing atrocities in Europe. For them to die without the synagogue they spent their life building, I can’t stand it.”

Hannah Dreyfus is an editorial intern at Tablet.