The long-running saga over the fate of the East Nassau Hebrew Congregation in Syosset seems now to be at a crossroads.
A controversial plan to sell the synagogue to a Korean church deserves judicial scrutiny, according to State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
In papers filed before State Supreme Court Justice Thomas Phelan in Mineola, Assistant Attorney General Dorothy Nese asked the judge to conduct a full evidentiary hearing if necessary before deciding whether to permit the sale.
At issue is which of two groups of residents are telling the truth when they claim to be the synagogue’s trustees.
A group that includes the congregation’s rabbi, Sol Appleman insists that there is no longer an active congregation and that there has not been a minyan there for several years. In court papers, Rabbi Appleman said he is seeking dissolution of the congregation so he can sell the synagogue and three homes it owns.
The group seeking to block the sale, he said, wants to bring about “a hostile takeover” of the building, which he said his late parents bought and later donated to the congregation. Rabbi Appleman’s father, Morris, had been the Orthodox congregation’s spiritual leader for more than 40 years.
He charged also that Chabad-Lubavitch of Plainview is behind the group seeking to block the sale and that “their real goal is to obtain possession of East Nassau’s real property.”
Gerald Gross, the attorney for the objecting residents, claimed in court papers filed by an associate, Elliot Pasik, that Rabbi Appleman was “trying to play this court like a fiddle” in order to pull off “an elaborate scam.” He insisted that the board Rabbi Appleman said truly represents the synagogue is actually a “sham” because it is “populated by his family and friends who do not reside in the Syosset area.”
“Rabbi [Appleman] has, quite intentionally, driven this synagogue into the ground, closing it, looting its assets, and behaved like a neighborhood street bully, all in an effort to enrich himself with a $300,000 plus judgment,” Pasik wrote.
Rabbi Appleman said in an interview that he has arranged for the proceeds from the sale of the congregations’ properties to go to 25 different charities and yeshivas.
A bet din or Jewish religious court awarded Rabbi Appleman more than $290,000 in back pay that he said the congregation owed him. A court later affirmed that award in an uncontested proceeding that the objecting residents are now seeking to vacate.
In her papers to the court, Nese said she has been following this dispute for more than two years. At first it concerned allegations that the rabbi improperly leased the synagogue to an outside group and was planning to sell it. To do so or lease it for longer than five years would need her office’s approval.
Nese said she wrote to Rabbi Appleman to tell him of complaints about his “purported misuse or misappropriation of the synagogue property” and the way he was “conducting himself as the rabbi.”
She said also that she is still awaiting information from him that she requested a year ago and that the objecting residents had sought to argue their case before a bet din. When Rabbi Appleman declined, the religious court issued a ruling barring him from selling the congregation’s property.
Rabbi Appelbaum said the proceedings were holding up funds that were eagerly awaited by charitable beneficiaries.
Rabbi Appleman said three different developers want to buy the houses and that “a church wants to buy the synagogue indirectly.” He said the sale price is $2.5 million.
Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, executive director of Lubavitch of Long Island, said his organization is trying to see if there are other area residents interested in saving the congregation.
“They need to get more people on board to convince the court that there are enough people who want it to be a viable congregation,” he said. “We’re trying to help them get their shul back.”