Jodi Sabul is a lifelong member of Congregation Kneses Israel in the Brooklyn community of Sea Gate.
But Sabul and fellow congregants say they've been unable to pray in their own synagogue -- victims, their rabbi says, of a "hostile takeover."
“Every Friday night the door has been locked. And we had to get the police to come and show them a court order just to allow us in. And what are we doing? What are we doing? We’re praying,” Sabul says.
“It’s basically a land-grab and it makes me very angry,” adds another congregant, Alan Cohen.
The dispute has its roots more than a dozen years ago when the congregation rented the synagogue annex for $4,000 a month to the United Talmudical Academy, a yeshiva tied to the Satmar Hasidic movement in Boro Park.
But after a fire damaged the synagogue's main sanctuary two years ago, the congregation told the school it needed the annex back and would not renew the lease.
That’s when the lawsuits started flying.
The congregation says the school promised to leave by last July, but never did.
“Living in Sea Gate, having the shul here. We’re here. This is my shul. There is nowhere else for me to go,” says Edith Storch, another congregant.
Last June, the congregation elected new leadership, ousting its president.
But a few weeks after the election, congregants say, the old president gave the United Talmudical Academy a new annex lease although, they claim, he had no legal authority to do so.
Congregants say they are now often locked out of their own building, facing guards who won't let them in, forcing them to hold prayer services in the street or call police to try to get inside.
“This is my place of worship. My grandparents worshipped here. How dare you tell me I can’t come in. It’s heartbreaking. It’s just heartbreaking,” said Sabul.
The congregation has taken its case to a GofundMe-style website, posting a video that helped it raise more than $300,000.
"They dragged us into the court with the purpose of bleeding, trying to destroy the synagogue, let it go bankrupt, in order that they can come in and make a hostile takeover,” said Rabbi Chain Brikman of Congregation Kneses Israel of Sea Gate.
The ousted president claims the election that removed him was invalid - and so he had every right to issue the new lease. His lawyer accuses congregants of using “storm trooper tactics” to gain access to the annex.
The school insists the real dispute is between the synagogue’s old and new boards and that it's caught in the middle.
The fight over who should control the property is dragging out in state Supreme Court using money that congregants say should be spent on repairing the sanctuary instead.