The state Appellate Court ruled that Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh didn’t violate its bylaws by selling its Perth Amboy building to an international spirituality and meditation group.
In response, three members who tried to block the sale are considering taking the case to the state Supreme Court.
The July 23 ruling found that the presidium of the Orthodox congregation, which closed about two years ago, was “fully authorized” to sell the synagogue to the Science of Spirituality, Inc. The $925,000 paid for the building is to be used to maintain the 110-year-old congregation’s three cemeteries.
Shaarey Tefiloh had only about 25 members left and could no longer draw a minyan of 10 men required to hold a service. The original 1903 building was destroyed in a fire in 1975 and rebuilt the next year on the corner of Water and Market streets.
The city’s lone remaining synagogue, the 116-year-old Conservative Congregation Beth Mordecai, is holding on, although the majority of its members no longer live in Perth Amboy.
The recent court decision upholds a 14-page decision issued last year by Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Frank M. Ciuffani.
The sale was challenged by Herschel Chomsky of Perth Amboy and his sister, Zephyr, of Edison, and Dr. Alan Goldsmith. 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 there.
By law, the group now has 20 days to decide whether to challenge the Appellate Court’s decision.
They alleged, among other issues, that the synagogue presidium failed to attain the majority required by its own bylaws. Various sets of bylaws dating back to 1928 exist, but the plaintiffs contend the one that appears to be legitimate requires that 75 percent of the congregation vote. The 13-5 tally taken Dec. 5, 2010, constitutes only 72 percent of the congregation, they claimed, thereby making it invalid.
The Superior Court decision noted that bylaws adopted in 1966 require a three-quarters vote, but a note in the document’s margin states it was amended in 1977 to a simple majority.
A cover letter about the revision from the presidium to the synagogue’s executive committee was submitted to back that up.
“I’m very disappointed,” Herschel Chomsky, the only presidium member to vote against the sale, told NJJN. “I haven’t spoken to our lawyers yet about our next step, but I don’t want to give up yet. I believe there are many issues that still haven’t been looked at.”
Chomsky said that although he is a presidium member, he was not told about the potential buyer until after negotiations were concluded.
“I would love to resolve this without going to court, but unfortunately they do not want to talk,” said Chomsky. “I would love to keep the shul open and have ideas to keep it open. I have groups who are interested in renting, but [the presidium members] are making it hard because they don’t want to even meet.”
In the past, he told NJJN that a yeshiva in Roosevelt was among the parties interested in taking over the building.
However, presidium member Shep Sewitch said no credible offers were ever presented. “We’ve had at least a half-dozen yeshivas come and say they’d like to rent the building,” but none of them came through, said Sewitch, a city resident for all of his more than 90 years and the prime defendant named in the suit. Other presidium defendants are his brother William, Barry Rosengarten, and George Cohen.
Sewitch said the spirituality center is still interested in the building and a contract has been drawn up. If at the end of the 20 days, no appeal has been filed, a closing date will be set.
“The courts have ruled without question we are doing the right thing,” he said. “We are just waiting to see if the other shoe drops and [the Chomskys and Goldsmith] appeal. I would not put it past them [to appeal] just so they can delay the sale of the building hoping the buyer will lose interest.”
Sewitch said someone checks on the synagogue every day “to make sure things are okay,” but added that the area’s changing demographics made the sale inevitable.
“We don’t have a Jewish community anymore,” he said. “There is no one to support an Orthodox synagogue. There are no young Jewish families moving in. I remember a time when virtually every business in downtown Perth Amboy was owned by Jews, and they were all Orthodox, but they’re gone and Orthodoxy is never coming back to Perth Amboy.”