Controversy over future of Rego Park Synagogue continues
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Apr 12, 2016 | 3608 views | 0 0 comments | 91 91 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A popular Rego Park synagogue along Queens Boulevard is still mired in controversy as developers and the synagogue’s rabbi quarrel over its future.

Ohr Natan, a community center and synagogue to over 1,000 residents, mostly of the Bukharian community, will face the expiration of its lease early next year.

Over the past couple of weeks, Rabbi Nahum Kaziev has spoken out publicly against plans that RJ Capital Holdings, the building’s owners, have to tear down the synagogue for a mixed-use building in its place.

Rudolf Abramov, a principal and head of development at RJ Capital Holdings, claimed that although they purchased the building back in 2013 with the intent to redevelop, there is no planned date to do so. They have not filed permits with the Department of Buildings.

However, real estate marketing researcher CBRE has been feeling out potential tenants for a new space at the site. And renderings of the five-floor, 100,000-square-foot glass building have been revealed, featuring areas designated for office space and retail.

Whenever RJ Capital Holdings might plan to redevelop the site, Abramov said that there will be a synagogue for the community.

"Because I’m part of the community, I want to make sure that the synagogue is perfectly preserved in the right manner,” Abramov said. "Then we’ll worry about redeveloping it, but it’s not really something we need to do tomorrow or a year from now.

“We’re more concentrated on properly structuring the synagogue and servicing the community, then we’ll worry about the rest of the stuff," he added.

Any new synagogue in the building would need to have new leadership, Abramov stated. He added that the community should pick the rabbi and the board, and it will be up to the board to review everything and communicate with the landlord and the community.

"I belong to a congregation from the same community and I don’t believe a one-man army should be running a synagogue,” Abramov said. "It should be a body of people, with a board of trustees and a number of people who make decisions catering to the needs of the community, not just the needs of one individual.

“[Kaziev] makes all the decisions, whether it’s financial or whether they are related to the community and so on, and that is more like a dictatorship than a democracy,” he added. "I don’t think the community is benefitting appropriately.”

Kaziev argued that in the time the new building takes to be completed during the years-long process, the congregation will be dissolved.

It isn’t the first time that RJ Capital Holdings have tried to oust Kaziev. Two years ago, RJ Capital Holdings filed a lawsuit against the synagogue for not paying rent. However, a judge dismissed the case after Kaziev provided proof that the synagogue had kept up to date with the rent payments.

The lawsuit came shortly after RJ Capital Holdings purchased the building, which Kaziev said the synagogue had a lien on in order to purchase it themselves.

Abramov also claimed that once RJ Capital Holdings purchased the building, they offered Ohr Natan help to relocate to a nearby area at their expense while they reconstructed the building.

Furthermore, once the larger building was completed, Kaziev would be able to return to the space with new furniture and finishings as well as an extended lease. Abramov claimed Kaziev refused the offer.

The community is in an uproar due Kaziev, who may have his own reasons for keeping the synagogue open, such as “milking" grants from the city, Abramov said.

Kaziev refuted those claims, stating that it was difficult to fundraise enough money to pay the roughly $15,000 in rent.

“We don’t receive grants, especially not for personal gains,” Kaziev said. “I don’t believe his word, I don’t believe anything he says.

“It’s unfortunate that something that has been built with so much energy and effort will be destroyed by somebody who is just looking for monetary gains,” the rabbi added.

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