Monday, April 27, 2015

Congregants Challenge Sale of Bulwark of Judaism on Lower East Side

[....] As the neighborhood shifted from Yiddish to Spanish, artistic to artisanal, the Home of the Sages became home to fewer and fewer sages. With not much need for its four-story religious and nursing home, the board recently decided to sell the 76-year-old institution, which first opened as a synagogue on Henry Street, to a developer for $13 million.

But 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 The state attorney general’s office gave the sale its blessing in March but it has since withdrawn its approval and is reviewing the allegations. [...]

Mr. Aschkenazi has been running Home for the Sages for four decades, taking over from his father. With the number of its Orthodox residents declining, the nursing home business was sold in 1996 to an operator from New Jersey. Court filings claim the new operator was a business partner of Mr. Aschkenazi’s son, now deceased. [...]

Only after the sale was before the court did congregants file their challenge. They maintain that in 2014 Mr. Aschkenazi had in 2014 systematically replaced the largely inactive board with several new members coming from the Gur sect who had no connections to the synagogue or the neighborhood. [...]

Mr. Aschkenazi has not answered the allegations that he is using the sale for personal gain, other than to say that they are “without merit.” He has also not addressed why the bulk of the proceeds from the sale would go to the Gur sect. [...]

After services last week, many congregants said they would have no objection to the sale if it benefited Jews on the Lower East Side. “We need all the help we can get,” Nussin Fogel said as he took off his tefillin. [...]

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