This deal is not kosher!
Worshipers at a Lower East Side synagogue are furious that their building, at 25 Bialystoker Place, has been sold without their knowledge or permission and are going to New York state supreme court next Wednesday to ask a judge to stop the $13 million sale to developer Peter Fine.
The worshipers are also outraged that proceeds from the sale of the non-profit building will not be used to help the Lower East Siders who use the building, the Home of the Sages of Israel.
Instead, $10 million from the sale will go to Ger, a right wing Hasidic sect, to build a synagogue in Israel, and the other $3 million will go to the synagogue’s president, Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, who calls himself a leader of the Ger sect and also runs a synagogue out of a converted garage attached to his personal residence in Queens, at 82-61 Beverly Road, Kew Gardens, said David Jaroslawicz, a lawyer who is representing the worshipers who are opposed to the deal.
“This is a money grab and it’s offensive,” said Jaroslawicz.
Patrick Rohan, of the top law firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner, which has represented Al Gore and Microsoft, along with the Lower East Side not-for-profit, Home of the Sages, declined to comment.
Aschkenazi’s Queens synagogue is Congregation Tifereth Shmuel — and the elderly Lower East Side Jews will not be able to travel there to pray on a daily basis. The 25 Bialystoker synagogue is also the only one on the Lower East Side to be wheel chair accessible.
“There are a lot of charities on the Lower East Side that need money to help people who live there. The synagogue allegedly had a member meeting to pass this deal — even though the ‘members’ were people from Queens who had never stepped foot in the synagogue to worship there,” Jaroslawicz said.
The Home of the Sages is beside the landmarked Bialystoker Synagogue, where disgraced ex assembly speaker Sheldon Silver worships. Fine is also in contract to buy the synagogue’s air rights and another property adjacent to the synagogue in another controversial deal.
Real estate sources say that Willy Rapfogel — now in jail for stealing millions from a Jewish charity he ran and where Fine once worked as a social worker — brought Fine into the deal. Fine’s spokesman denied the allegation, saying that “members of the community” introduced Fine to the deal.
Jaroslawicz also said that the “members” of the synagogue at 25 Bialystoker Place who voted for the deal are members of the Ger sect that will receive the $10 million.
“It’s outrageous,” Jaroslawicz said.
Jaroslawicz also provided the Post with a copy of a lease agreement between the Home of the Sages, where Aschkenazi is president, and Congregation Tifereth Shmuel, which shares the same address as his home in Queens.
In the lease agreement, Rabbi Aschkenazi signs for the Tenant — the Home of the Sages of Israel — to pay the Landlord, the Congregation Tifereth Shmuel, $45,000 a year to lease the space above his garage. The Rabbi’s wife signed the lease on behalf of the Congregation but neglected to write her last name. She only signed using her first names, Rathma Bithya, and omitted to identify herself Rathma Bithya Aschkenazi.
Jaroslawicz also alleges that Aschkenazi gave donations from the Home of the Sages to fancy schools, like the Manhattan School for Girls on the Upper East Side, during the years his granddaughter attended, in lieu of tuition. The donations are noted on the Home of the Sages tax forms, copies of which were obtained by the Post.
“The Home of the Sages collects $700,000 to $800,000 a year to take care of elderly rabbis — but they don’t! It’s unbelievable,” Jaroslawicz said, adding that Aschkenazi uses some of that money to pay himself $75,000 a year, and other money to pay his son, the late Mendel Aschkenazi, who helped run a nursing home also located in the building with Charles Knoll, until Mendel Aschkenazi’s recent death.
Rabbi Aschkenazi did not return calls that were made on Thursday before observant Jews turned off their phones to observe the end of Passover.
Jaroslawicz also slammed the Attorney General’s office for not objecting to the deal in the first place.
An AG spokesman told the Post: “We did not ‘approve’ anything. We submitted no objections, but ultimately a judge signs off, approves such a deal.”
He added: “We also submitted no objections to the directing of those $10 million. It’s not illegal….We’ve concluded that there will be sufficient funds remaining for Home of the Sages worship/study activities.”
One lawyer familiar with the case questioned how the AG’s office thinks that 80-year-old worshipers on the Lower East Side will be able to travel to Queens for “worship/study activities” that begin daily at 7 AM. “How will they get there? On their Harleys? The AG’s office is either corrupt or incompetent.”