High court decision allows shul to be sold
The state Supreme Court has declined to block the sale of Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh.
February 10, 2014
The state Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging the sale of Perth Amboy’s last remaining Orthodox synagogue, thus allowing the sale and ending a long legal fight by three members on one front.
However, the Dec. 6 decision opened up a new line of legal wrangling between the two sides.
The three members — Herschel Chomsky of Perth Amboy and his sister, Zephyr, of Edison, and Dr. Alan Goldsmith of Spotswood — filed suit in Middlesex County Superior Court seeking details of how much money is in the synagogue accounts and where it will be earmarked.
In recent years, Shaarey Tefiloh had only about 25 members and could no longer draw a minyan of 10 men required to hold a service. The synagogue building reached an agreement about two years ago to sell the building to the Science of Spirituality, Inc., a meditation group, for $925,000, with much of the money to be set aside to maintain the 110-year-old congregation’s three cemeteries.
The Chomskys are the children of Rabbi Aaron Chomsky, who served as religious leader at the shul from 1983 to 1992. Goldsmith grew up in Perth Amboy and is founder and president of the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center.
They claim that the shul’s presidium did not follow its own bylaws in voting to shutter the building and accept the offer from the Science of Spirituality. On July 23, an Appellate Court upheld a lower court ruling that the presidium did not violate its bylaws. The State Supreme Court declined to overturn that ruling.
Herschel Chomsky said he is not giving up.
“I feel it’s my obligation to do everything possible to preserve the shul,” Herschel Chomsky told NJJN. “They’ve been paying their lawyers out of shul funds, and we don’t even know how much they spent and who gave them the okay to do so. God forbid, if it is sold, we need to know where the money is going.”
Larry Loigman, the Middletown and Red Bank lawyer representing the three, said because the shul’s board has been dissolved, it isn’t clear where the money from the sale would be designated.
Loigman said the suit was not intended to block the sale, although it could delay it.
“We tried that and were not successful,” he said. “We’re now going in a different direction.”
“It came out during trial that they had no plan,” said Loigman. “First they said it would go to a charity, and now we’re not sure where it’s going, and we want to know there’s someone who’s going to administer it. We want to ensure the money goes to the proper place. We want to find out what the rules will be.”
Presidium member Shep Sewitch, the prime defendant in the suit and one of five named in the new filing, said he had not yet been served with legal papers. However, he told NJJN the bulk of the money would be allotted to the cemeteries.
“We don’t even know yet if there will be anything left over after that, and we don’t know how much will be left over,” he said. “How could we decide what to do with it until we know?”
Chomsky, the only presidium member to vote against the sale, also alleged the presidium hasn’t kept synagogue members apprised of its dealings as required and refused to talk to yeshivas that may be interested in buying the building.
Sewitch said there have never been any “credible” offers and that he presumed the sale will be finalized in the near future.