Monday, January 31, 2011

The Politics of the Synagogue

About two weeks ago, I got a call from Steve Bogomilsky, a former North Bay Village commissioner and the current president of the Harambam Congregation, the owners of the synagogue on Hispanola Avenue. What he told me sort of surprised me. In a nutshell, when the commission passed a resolution supporting the designation of the property as an historic site, the owners, the Harambam Congregation, were never notified that this would be on the agenda and only found out month's later.

This is my summary and views of what happened, followed by Steve's:

On October 19, 2010, the NBV commission unanimously passed a resolution supporting the designation of the synagogue on Hispanola Avenue as an historic site. The county are the ones who decide but based on the discussion at the October commission meeting, it would appear that the designation was universally popular in North Bay Village. There was no one speaking against the resolution.

There was a good reason that no one spoke against it – the congregation who owns the building were not informed of the pending resolution and consequently had no idea that this was even being considered. The commission voted on the resolution without the salient information. There was no justification of what makes the building itself historical and the implications on the congregation who own this property of this designation. Instead of being a fully rounded discussion about an important institution in North Bay Village life, it was a feel good statement designed to support one party in a complex dispute.

Put simply, the dispute is a classic landlord – tenant disagreement, one that is currently being heard in accordance with Jewish law by a rabbinical court and where both sides have agreed to settle the dispute there. The city had no interest in either declaring an religiously important building an historical landmark when it does not have any historical implications. But once the city made the decision to get involved, the commission chose precisely the wrong course by not ensuring that the property owners had the chance to offer their views on the designation. It was a simple case of pandering for votes.

Steve added the following comments:

The commission was misled by a group of individuals including the Rabbi of Ohr Menachem congregation, a tenant in the building. He represented himself as having the right to speak on behalf of the ownership of the building - Harambam Congregation.  The tenants told the commission that the building was being sold to a church.  When that story didn't stick they changed their story and said that the owners were selling to a Mosque.  Both are not true. 

The building has been listed for sale for a number of years and can only be sold to another Jewish institution as per the Deed. 

The dispute is being heard in rabbinical court and normally in such cases neither side is to cause damage to the other until their case is heard. 

It seems that some of the people involved even promised a commissioner votes to help in the election campaign. 

However it is pretty obvious that in this case so far the Owners, Harambam, have not taken any action that would be contrary to the benefit of the building and the Other side has evidently been acting underhandedly and in violation of their own agreement to be heard in Rabbinical court.  They have attempted to cause the building to lose its value by the commission action. 

Kevin Vericker
January 31, 2011

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