Empty ark figures, briefly, in shul quarrel

Empty ark figures, briefly, in shul quarrel

One of the six Torah scrolls allegedly “missing” from Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh
One of the six Torah scrolls allegedly “missing” from Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh

The case of the six missing Torah scrolls from Congregation Shaarey Tefiloh in Perth Amboy has been solved.

Herschel Chomsky of Perth Amboy, who is leading efforts to block the sale of the city’s last Orthodox synagogue, reported to police April 5 that the scrolls were missing from its ark. A press release from “The Committee To Save Shaarey Tefiloh” quoted Chomsky as saying he was “shocked and heartbroken that someone would remove the sifrei Torah from the sanctuary.”

In fact, members of the presidium at the synagogue — which has been the subject of a protracted legal battle over its closure and sale because of its dwindling membership — had moved the scrolls to Congregation Beth Mordecai, the last remaining synagogue in the city, for safekeeping.

Shep Sewitch, a presidium member who supports the sale of the synagogue, expressed surprise that there had been a police report filed over the missing scrolls.

“What is wrong with him?” he asked, referring to Chomsky. Sewitch noted that the valuable scrolls had been sitting in an unoccupied building.

He said religious items needed to be cleared from the shul in preparation for the sale. No decision has been made on what will be done with the scrolls.

Sewitch and Chomsky, also a presidium member, are on opposite sides of the legal wrangling over the future of the synagogue. 

Chomsky, his sister Zephyr of Edison, and Dr. Alan Goldsmith are challenging the sale of the 110-year-old shul, which could no longer draw a minyan, to the Science of Spirituality, Inc., an international meditation group, for $925,000. 

Much of the money would be set aside to maintain the congregation’s three cemeteries. The opponents’ suit contended the synagogue violated its own bylaws in initiating the sale.

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.

The state Supreme Court declined on Dec. 6 to overturn a lower court ruling allowing the sale. 

Although the court’s decision effectively ended the original challenge, which began in 2011, the three filed another court action seeking details of synagogue finances.

Chomsky said he has been continuing to go to the synagogue each Shabbat to pray by himself, which is how he discovered the “missing” scrolls.

“I reported the theft to the police,” Chomsky told NJJN. “I am afraid the rest of the presidium took them or sold them. Even if they moved them, I am part of the presidium and I should have been told.”

Sewitch, a prime defendant in the various suits, has told NJJN that, contrary to the claims of Chomsky and his partners, no Jewish institution has ever made a credible offer to purchase the synagogue.

“I don’t know where [Chomsky is] coming from, but some people never give up,” said Sewitch. “The courts have ruled in our favor on everything. This isn’t something we enjoy.” He, his brother William, and Barry Rosengarten — the other presidium members — said Sewitch, “are life members and this is very sad for us, but we have to dismantle it. We have answered every one of their challenges and it has cost the shul hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have been used for our cemeteries.”

Chomsky said he is consulting with his attorneys to decide what his next move will be. 

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