(New York Jewish Week via JTA) – Worshipers at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, a staple in Queens since the late 1940s, approved the sale Thursday night of their one-block apartment building. They will now begin the process of finding new accommodation in the same area.
“The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the sale,” said Carl Koerner, chairman of the construction committee.
The 400-family-unit Conservative congregation synagogue at 106-06 Queens Boulevard has been on the market for about a year. The asking price was $ 50 million, but Koerner said the terms of the sale to a developer would not be made public until approved by the state attorney general.
The 70-year-old building “does not meet the needs of our congregation,” said Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the congregation’s spiritual leader since 1982.
“It was set up at a time when the architecture of synagogues was very frontal, with the clergy facing the congregation,” he said. “It’s like a concert hall. There is nothing in the architecture of the synagogue that is intended to withstand the changing needs of society.
“Today’s services are more participatory and intimate,” he said.
“There are stairs throughout the building, which are not accessible to people with disabilities,” Koerner said. “And there is only one elevator. We wanted something new that would be the right size for the congregation and more in keeping with the way we operate and with all the new air conditioning and heating systems.
A bourgeois district one described as “city life in a suburban setting”, Forest Hills has a dozen synagogues. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the Jewish Center, under the leadership of its then rabbi, Ben Zion Bokser, numbered more than 1,000 families.
It has faced challenges over the years, but nothing quite like the “immense challenges” it faced during the pandemic, Koerner said, including the loss of rental and catering income and the cancellation of business. ‘fundraising events. He noted that the congregation “was able to do quite well. We rose to the challenge thanks to a lot of hard work and a wonderful professional team. “
The congregation realized about 20 years ago that the building was not well suited, noted Romi Narov, its president.
Over the next few years, “we went to the market a few times, but we encountered a falling market and we stopped.” The price offered to them, she said, is now “the best we can get.”
When asked where they would be moving, Narov said there were “a few potential new locations that could be adapted.”
“We will now be taken seriously by potential owners because they know we now have the money,” she said.
Skolnik said that because many members walk to the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, the new building should be within walking distance of their current homes.
Although the current building rents some of its unused rooms to foreigners, Narov said the plan is to move into a building large enough to accommodate one of its current tenants, JASA Self-Help Community Services. . Selfhelp offers a wide range of services to elderly, frail and vulnerable New Yorkers. It is also the largest comprehensive service provider to Holocaust survivors in North America.
“We hope to take them with us as Selfhelp fits into our mission,” she said, noting that she is currently renting one large room and several small rooms.
Koerner said that one thing management is “committed to is that we will not lose a day of operations, not even an hour.”
He also stressed that the sale of the building is something the congregation has been planning for more than 20 years and is “unrelated to the pandemic”. He said he would expect the building to be razed once the sale is over and the new owners of the site, which is zoned for mixed use, erect a building that is both commercial and residential.
Although the terms of the sale call for the congregation to vacate the building between one and a half and two and a half years, Narov said “in reality we will need two and a half years, especially if we are going to build a new facility. . We will build with the ability to expand the membership and hope it grows. “
Skolnik said the congregation “might even attract different people with a different building. I think it’s for the good. … I have a deep appreciation for the history of this synagogue, but there comes a time when change is needed. There is nothing good about this building other than the fact that it has a story. But history cannot stand in the way of survival. And the story of the Forest Hills Jewish Center is about its congregation. The building has to change.