Congregants who worship at the Ger Hasidic sect’s synagogue “Sages of Israel” located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side are furious over the impending sale of their building. Now the US attorney’s office is getting involved.
The building, located at 25 Bialystoker Place, is set to be sold to investor Peter Fine for $13 million. But the congregants will not get the money for their community. $10 million of the sale price is set to go to the Ger community in Israel. The self-proclaimed leader of the Ger sect, Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, will take the other $3 million.
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He has opened a new synagogue in a private house in queens.
The problem for Ashkenazi is that since the synagogue is a non-profit a court must sign off its sale. The sale price is well below market value for the area which set off a lot of red flags.
The lawyer representing the congregants who wish to stop the sale, David Jaroslawicz, told the New York Post, “This is a money grab and its offensive. The synagogue allegedly had a member meeting to pass this deal — even though the ‘members’ were people from Queens who had never stepped foot in the synagogue to worship there.”
Rabbi Aschkenazi also earned hundreds of thousands of Dollars from a charitable trust run by his late son which was supposed to take care of elderly rabbis. But his son was arrested and sued by New York State for fraud in relation to that charity and died before he could be prosecuted.
Now here’s where things get complicated. Rabbi Ashkenazi has also been accused by Jaroslawicz of using funds from the sale to in effect pay himself $45, 000 a year to lease space in his Queens home to the congregation. Apparently, Ashkenazi’s wife was the one who signed the new lease with the synagogue.
In another strange twist the judge, Arthur Engoron, who was set to preside over the preliminary court hearing in New York yesterday, recused himself from the case without saying why.
Now the New York Observer says that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who is handling the prosecution of former NY State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, has decided to investigate the sale of the building.
And the New York Post has also reported that Peter Fine is also in contract to a parcel of land adjacent to “Sages of Israel” and air rights from the neighboring Bialystoker Synagogue.