Members of a struggling synagogue on the Upper West Side want to tear down their 93-year-old house of worship to keep their congregation from disbanding, but some in the neighborhood are outrgaed. NY1's Michael Scotto filed the following report.
A nearly century-old synagogue on West 93rd Street may soon be demolished.
Congregation Shaare Zedek says bills are piling up and it has no choice but to sell the structure to a developer, who will replace it with a 14-story luxury condo building.
"Given where we are, I don't see how the congregation moves forward if it can't do this deal," said Michael Firestone, president of Congregation Shaare Zedek.
Firestone says the building is just too large and expensive to maintain. It can hold well over 1,000 worshipers, but the congregation has shrunk to just 80 families.
Then there's Shaare Zedek's run-down cemetery in Queens, costing $80,000 a year to maintain. Firestone says the sale will allow the congregation to fund the cemetery indefinitely and move to a space inside the new building.
"The synagogue will own the first three stories of the condominium, which will be a modern social hall, a modern sanctuary," Firestone said.
The problems here are not unique. Across the city, synagogues and other religious institutions are grappling with dwindling numbers.
For some congregations like Shaare Zedek in Judaism's conservative movement, the challenges are more pronounced.
"Many of the more committed Conservative Jews have identified as Orthodox, and many of those who are not so committed to being conservative moved over to reform," said Steven Cohen, professor at Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion.
But some nearby residents fear demolitioning the synagogue will destroy the neighborhood's character.
"The last thing we need here is another high-rise with expensive condos," said Michael Rabin, an Upper West Side resident.
But stopping the project may be difficult. The building is not a landmark, and the city has no plans to make it one, disappointing preservation groups.
"While much of the Upper West Side is preserved, there's still large swaths of this neighborhood, including this neighborhood, that don't have the protections that they should," said Kate Wood, president of Landmark West.
The state attorney general's office, which oversees nonprofit organizations, will review the proposed sale. Because of the controversy, the AG will ask a judge whether the project can move forward.