Shul Dispute Nears End

By Nathaniel Popper

Published August 19, 2005, issue of August 19, 2005.

After a lengthy court battle and an investigation by the New York attorney general, an Orthodox synagogue union will be allowed to sell its Manhattan building.

The initial efforts to sell the building drew a lawsuit from the congregation that it houses, Young Israel of Fifth Avenue. Leaders of the congregation opened court proceedings three years ago to stop the sale, saying that it would result in their eviction. After months of deliberations, this week the congregation and the National Council of Young Israel struck an agreement that would allow the sale of the building to a member of Young Israel of Fifth Avenue.

The congregation has approved the agreement already, and leaders of the National Council were set to vote on it Wednesday night, after press time. If the deal is approved, the parties will make a court appearance on Friday to finalize details. Young Israel of Fifth Avenue will then sever ties with the National Council and take a new name.

Lawyers for both Young Israel of Fifth Avenue and the National Council declined to comment on the agreement.

The proposed sale of the building sparked a lengthy investigation of the National Council by the office of New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The attorney general’s office looked into past financial irregularities at the National Council, which represents about 200 congregations.

Last fall, four years after the investigation began, Spitzer’s office approved the sale. But the congregation’s lawsuit continued to stand in the way of the organization’s efforts to finalize a deal with Howard Neu, a Cleveland-based buyer.

The congregation filed its lawsuit in 2002, after the National Council entered into a contract to sell the property for less than the assessed market value to Neu, who was rumored to have ties to Pesach Lerner, national executive director of the National Council.

Under the agreement reached this week, the congregation will drop its lawsuit and the building will be sold to a member of Young Israel of Fifth Avenue, Steven Ancona, who has said he will allow the congregation to stay in the building.



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