Queens’ Ohr Natan Shul and Community Center Again Dragged Into Court as it Fights for Survival


ohr-natan-shul-queensQueens, NY – Landlords of the large Ohr Natan Shul and Community Center are again looking to the courts to continue their campaign to evict the shul with its 1000 members, mostly Bukharian Jews. Despite the fact that they failed in an earlier attempt in May to evict the synagogue in Queens Civil Court, the landlords will be asking the courts on July 14th to evict Ohr Natan from its offices in an adjacent building. Ohr Natan uses the offices to coordinate its broad slate of activities, including adult education, anti-missionary program, food distribution and more. In May, more than 50 residents of Rego Park jammed into a 4th floor courtroom of the Queens Civil Court on behalf of Ohr Natan. The court ruled that the landlords, developers who are planning to demolish the beautiful synagogue when its lease ends in 2017 in favor of a large development, could not evict Ohr Natan prior to the expiration of the lease.

Founded in 1986, Ohr Natan invested more than $2.1 to renovate the old Trylon Theater on Queens Blvd as well as $1.2 million in rent as one of the major shuls and community centers for the area’s large Bukharian Jewish population. The Trylon LLC developers that acquired the building had informed Ohr Natan of their intention to build a housing development on the site leaving the shul and its 1000 members “on the street.” According to Rabbi Nachum Kaziev, spiritual leader and head of Ohr Natan, “once the developers became aware of our intent to fight the planned 2017 eviction when our lease officially ends, they began a series of legal maneuvers that would move up the date of expulsion to as early as weeks from now.” He said that the Bukharian Jews were already denied any access to their ancient heritage as a result of living under Communism for 70 years, are being actively recruited by missionaries and now face the ultimate rejection as the shul and center they have adopted sends them packing.”

The developers have all but ignored the pleas from local elected officials and community leaders as well as a “tzav ikul” — an injunction, by the Vaad Harabbonim of Queens. Rabbi Kaziev said that attempts by his organization to reach an accommodation with the Bukharian Jewish developers including retaining the beautiful shul and building above it, have been rejected. “Attempts are made throughout the city to save synagogues that are no longer functioning let alone an active shul with 500 people who daven there every Shabbos.” He pointed to the recent announcement by Mr. El Gamal, an Islamic developer, who vowed to rebuild the Garment District Synagogue as part of his large development despite the fact that the synagogue membership is dwindling. “It is shameful for Jews to destroy a vibrant and dynamic shul,” the rabbi emotionally stated.

In addition to its fully functioning shul with tefillois and shiurim, Ohr Natan offers a full program of after school programs, adult education (including ESL), food distribution and many events. Since 1991, it publishes Druzhba, a monthly magazine with a circulation of 80,000 people throughout the five boroughs, the largest publications read by immigrants of the former Soviet Union.

Rabbi Kaziev issued an urgent plea to save the shul and the “neshomos of 1000 Jews who may potentially be lost to our people forever as the danger of assimilation threatens to take its toll on this group of Jews.”

{Gavriel Sitrit-Matzav.com Newscenter}