In the fight for control at the Sixth Street Community Synagogue, Round One has gone to new members who say they’re trying to rejuvenate the Orthodox East Village shul.
Nearly three months after longtime congregants said they prevailed in an election of new board members, New York Civil Supreme Court Justice Carol Edmead ruled at an April 20 preliminary hearing for a Temporary Restraining Order against the old-timers. The ruling reinstates the previous synagogue board — a mix of old-timers and those who sided with the new members — pending further review in a hearing later this month.
The battle at Sixth Street first surfaced three months ago when longtime members tried to strip the new ones of their voting rights — claiming that they neither attended services nor lived in the neighborhood. The new members — some of them recruited by Rabbi Simon Jacobson, whose Meaningful Life Center is housed at the shul — shot back that they were reviving a shul on its last legs.
At the end of the Feb. 7 election, a board comprised entirely of old members — led by 2nd Avenue Deli owner Jack Lebewohl — claimed victory.
After the election, “the new members … went to a judge and said these guys basically violated their own constitution,” said Matthew Pace, the former and now reinstated chairman of the board, who sides with the new members. “They ran a sham election and it should be overturned.”
“Jack [Lebewohl] has created an ‘us against them [situation],’” Pace continued. “Whereas, the other side just wanted to be involved.”
Both Lebewohl and synagogue President David Landis declined comment.
“The old members have created a climate of fear and what I consider to be the equivalent of racism that is not only unnecessary but profoundly saddening,” said Michael Rosen, one of the official plaintiffs in the court case, representing the new members but actually an old member himself.
At the center of the struggle stand both Rabbi Greg Wall, who serves as a part-time rabbi for the shul, and Rabbi Simon Jacobson, who houses his Meaningful Life Center in the shul’s basement and recruited some of the synagogue’s contentious new members.
“Before this [temporary restraining order], the new Board and Rabbi Wall were close to signing a long-term (seven or eight year) contract,” wrote Community Synagogue lawyers Ilann Maazel and Eisha Jain, in their April 29 motion to vacate the restraining order. “The [restraining order], however, has thrown these plans into disarray. With no long-term commitment from [the synagogue], Rabbi Wall still lives in New Jersey with his wife and three children, unable to attend most services, unwilling (absent a commitment) to move to New York, and in danger of leaving the synagogue in order to ensure financial security for his family.”
Rabbi Wall declined to comment.
Not surprisingly, the old-timers aren’t going down without a fight. They’ve appealed the restraining order and were granted a stay until a further evaluation of the appeal takes place Friday, in front of a full five-judge panel.
Signup for our weekly email newsletter here.