A holy war between the billionaire benefactor of an Upper East Side synagogue and the temple’s longtime rabbi has cost the clergyman his job.
The battle between the Edmond J. Safra Philanthropic Foundation chaired by its namesake’s 82-year-old widow, Lily Safra and Rabbi Elie Abadie began brewing at the Edmond J. Safra Synagogue on East 63rd Street when Abadie’s contract expired eight years ago.
He continued to be paid $700,000 a year and allowed to live in a $3.5 million condominium rent-free, said the foundation.
During contract negotiations, the foundation offered to continue paying his salary and benefits on the condition that he commit to a certain number of teaching hours at the synagogue, according to a Dec. 28 letter the foundation sent to the congregation.
But Abadie, who has led the roughly 300-member Sephardic congregation for 14 years, refused the offer, according to the foundation. The foundation and the rabbi then began in 2015 to negotiate his departure.
In what the foundation called “pure extortion,” the rabbi demanded a $20 million golden parachute and ownership of the condo, it said in the letter.
The rabbi shot back in his own letter to worshippers on Dec. 30, calling the allegations “malicious, false, baseless and self-serving.
“I never ‘demanded’ anything, until the foundation ‘asked’ me to step down,” Abadie wrote. He claims he is being forced to resign “without valid reason.”
A Sephardic community source said Lily Safra is not sad to see the rabbi go.
The wife of the late Brazilian banking tycoon found out the rabbi had been doing consulting work for her nephew’s religious center on Park Avenue, the Moise Safra Community Center, the source said.
Lily did not get along with the late Moise Safra, and felt the rabbi’s decision to help was a betrayal, according to the source.
Rabbi Abadie “completely disputes the baseless allegations made against him,” said his lawyer, Terrence A. Oved.
The rabbi’s last day is Jan. 31. The foundation also announced it would change the congregation name at that time.
A spokesman for the foundation and Lily Safra would not comment.