LAST UPDATED: October 31, 2010
Sale of Temple Israel Building – Dealing with the fallout…
Shalom to all:
I applaud the lay leadership of our congregation as they struggle to carry us through difficult times, including the process of selling the assets of the former Temple Israel. What remains distressing is the personal attacks levied against us by some, whose hurt and anger seemingly overwhelms the concepts of good and just. Below appears an email received from one such family, and since they did not respond to my offer to meet with them directly, nor to my statement that I intend to share their email to the congregation, hence this email.
I can certainly understand the pain and angst that many must feel, I have the utmost empathy for each, and I am appreciative of the many calls, emails and direct comments of a supportive nature that I have received.
My apologies for burdening you with yet another email on this topic, but I feel it is my responsibility to keep you inform.
Rabbi Mark Mallach,
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael
A. The email received:
So, Rabbi Mallach, you received a fruit basket from the new Muslim owners of our beloved Temple Israel.
How lovely. I wonder( along with all of our former Temple Israel congregants and all of Temple Beth Ahm )
why you did not make this known during the Holidays? After all, the papers were signed on Sept. 22nd to bring the mosque to our Temple. Is it possible you knew the reaction you would receive would be one of outrage and disgust? You and your committee have fulfilled the worst stereotype associated with Jews of avarice and greed.
Our beloved synagogue cost you nothing with 40 older families coming to Beth Ahm. Rather than consider the feelings of those torn away from an adored Rabbi and synagogue that stood for 50 years, with all of your wisdom, you betrayed us all. We are sickened by this move. We are withdrawing immediately from Beth Ahm. Hope you enjoy your “big step forward to building bonds” Shame on you and anyone else connected with this decision.
Janet and Gil Jacobs
B. Rabbi Mallach’s Response:
Dear Janet & Jill:
I left you a voice message Wednesday; I do hope you received it. It was a 2-part message:
a) to wish Janet a very happy birthday
b) to express my desire to meet with you both face to face to discuss your email.
Since I have not yet heard back from you, I do want to respond to your email. I see how upset you feel from what you have written, and I am sorry that you feel that way; I do feel a responsibility to reply. In addition, you made statements that seem to reflect misinformation and strong accusations.
First, I do want to take a teaching moment that deals with the concept of the HET of Dibbur Peh – the sin of speech. This a category of sins that involve the words that we share that dwell in the realm of gossip, slander, maliciousness and the like, all of which are sins that we stand up for on Yom Kippur and communally ask God to forgive us. And, I’m sure such teachings were oft express by the respected, venerable Rabbi Korbman to his congregation.
Second, our temple president, David Glass, had hoped to be able to share with the entire congregation on Rosh HaShanah, or at least on Yom Kippur that the sale of the building had been completed with the closing of the real estate transaction. You state, “after all, the papers were signed on Sept. 22nd;” please note that this was the closing date and it took place after Yom Kippur. We had hoped the closing would have taken place by the end of August or at least the first week of September, before Rosh Hashanah. However, as it oft happens, there are delays, in this case in getting approval from the Union Fire Department to issue the Certificate of Occupancy, which required more work by us to satisfy the FD and at a significant expense. If the closing had taken place, then the entire congregation would have heard about on the High Holy Days. Caution prevailed because every other offer that was proffered for the building had fallen through. In addition, none of the transaction was done in any secretive manner, the offer from the ICUC was made in April, 2010 and reported to the Board and every step and aspect of the transaction was made with Board approval as required by our By-Laws, and all Board meetings are open to all to attend (with the exception of personnel issues which are done in closed sessions at the end of a meeting).
Third, you state, “fulfilled the worst stereotype associated with Jews of avarice and greed;” again, I am concerned of one falling under the spectra of sin of Dibbur Peh, but I am not to judge, there is only 1 Judge. To be clear, promises were made to the members of both congregations as a condition of the merger, which both congregations voted on and approved. Yes, I know that the former members of Temple Israel would have preferred to maintain the congregation, but the reality of changing demographics in the greater Jewish community no longer made that feasible. At least the entity that was TI can continue under the new banner of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael. As to the promises:
To members of TI: among many things, it was agreed that certain physical modifications would be made to TBA to house items from TI such as: expanding the Holy Ark to include a row to house several of the Sefrei Torah from TI, expansion of the Yahrzeit Boards to accommodate TI Yahrzeit plaques, art work of significance such as the needle points made by TI’s Sisterhood and many others including plaques of past presidents of TI and its auxiliary organizations, finding a means to maintain and display the TI stained classed windows, and to rescue the wood and ornaments from the TI sanctuary Ark (note: the Ark used in the parallel service!), and more.
To members of TBA: the merger would allow TBA to sell the assets of TI: temple building and parsonage home, which would then be applied to pay down TBA’s mortgage debt
Now, none of the above promises could be fulfilled without the sale of the assets. Indeed, some of the initial promises to TI were done only be using our line of credit, which was also used to maintain the TI building (heat, cooling, minimum illumination, lawn-care, water, etc). This amounted to a sum in 6 figures!
Forth, you state, “our beloved synagogue cost you nothing with 40 older families coming.” Do note that the number of families merged into TBA were over 3 times the number you state, and not all were “older” but included families with children still needing a religious school education. And, as indicated above, there were large ongoing costs to maintain the TI building and the parsonage home until each was sold (including required repairs to make each saleable), the cost of fulfilling at least part of the promises made to TI, and there is a base cost to maintain on our roster each and EVERY member of TBAY which includes materials, labor and hefty dues to USCJ, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Fifth, you state, “rather than consider the feelings of those torn away;” please understand that the feelings and opinions of those from TI were and always are under consideration, and a fair representation of the former leadership of TI were given Board positions at TBAY and have taken on an active role. In addition, TBA did not tear anyone away from TI, it was TI that came to us to seek a merger and after a great and lengthy discussion, TBA agreed and granted terms of the merger that awarded membership at a rate of 7 times less than members of TBA pay for dues!
Last, I would ask you, would you be less sickened if the building was sold to a Christian, Hindu or other denominational group? This is America, a land where your religious freedom is guaranteed. I have been told by many who participated in building the first synagogues in towns such as Hillside, Irvington, Union and others, and this includes TI, that such attempts were met by anti-Semitic efforts to block them!
I regret your decision to resign. If you intend to do so, please formally notify our Executive Director, Shiri Haines, in writing, of your decision. As rabbi, I have always endeavored to be there for my congregants for their every pastoral and spiritual need. I am not being sycophantic to state that I serve each and every one of our members no matter if they came to us from a merger or any other path, and I am confident that if you speak to any member of TBAY that came to us from the merger with TI, you will find this is true, will remain true to the best of my ability, and would remain true to the 2 of you and your family. I encourage you to remain part of our congregational family and strive together to build an ever more sacred community.
Furthermore, since I feel your letter speaks to many important concerns, there is a relevant need to share it and my response with the congregational ListServ, which I intend to do.
Rabbi Mark Mallach
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael
60 Temple Drive
Springfield, NJ 07081
(973) 376-0539 x 15
Fax: (973) 376-5478
Cell: (908) 803-4777
“Tears may linger for a night, but joy comes with the dawn.” (Psalm 30:6)
Sale of former N.J. synagogue leads to first Islamic center in Union County
Published: Tuesday, October 26, 2010, 7:10 AM
Bob Considine/The Star-Ledger
Jerry McCrea/The Star-Ledger
View of the new Islamic Center of Union County, housed in the former Temple Israel building and property on Morris Avenue.
UNION TOWNSHIP (Union County) — Last week, Rabbi Mark Mallach from Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield received a fruit basket.
The senders were members of the Islamic Center of Union County, less than three miles away in Union Township.
“It was a token to say, ‘Hi, we’re in the neighborhood,” Mallach said. “Yet, there are a few who have opposed this.”
It wasn’t the fruit that offended some in Mallach’s congregation. Some just weren’t happy to see their former synagogue be sold to a Muslim group and be converted into a mosque.
But that’s exactly what’s happening, despite a long history of strife between the two faiths.
Nearly three years ago, Temple Israel, facing dwindling membership, merged with Temple Beth Ahm to become the new Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael on Temple Drive in Springfield. That left the former synagogue — a 14,000-square-foot, split-level edifice — to be sold.
David Glass, president of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, said the building received interest from other church groups and investors looking to turn it into office space after it went on sale in January 2008. There was even a visit from a fast-food company. Ultimately, Glass said, many suitors had difficulty securing mortgage loans.
In April, Wail Rasheed, the director of the Irvington Islamic Center in Newark, who happens to live behind the former temple in Union, saw the for-sale sign and gauged the interest of Imam El Shazley Shaban. They agreed to make an offer.
On Sept. 22, final papers were signed to bring the first mosque to Union County. While neither Glass nor Rasheed would disclose the sale price, a fund-raiser page on the Islamic Center of Union County website says the building was purchased for $1.4 million.
“This was needed to accommodate the growing Muslim community in the Union County area,” Rasheed said. “We were pleased to reach out to maintain the building as a house of worship.”
Rasheed said he has heard no negative feedback of moving operations to a former Jewish temple from the 200-plus Muslim members of the group. While day-to-day operations have commenced, an official Grand Opening, after renovations, is slated for November.
“We preach that the best way to conduct civilized work is through building the bridges not causing gaps,” he said.
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The negative reaction from members and former members of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, Mallach says, has been “very limited, but vocal,” which both he and Glass have found troubling. Mallach said one person — a former Temple Israel member who did not join the merger with Temple Beth Ahm — has derided current temple leaders for selling to people who “hate the Jews.” Another individual, who did come over in the merger, also voiced displeasure.
Mallach said he has found such behavior as “contrary to our Jewish tradition and system of beliefs and, actually, sinful.”
“We are a people who have faced discrimination and prejudice when we wanted to move into a community and establish a synagogue,” Mallach said. “Those fights still go on.”
Glass, a high school history teacher and U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Gulf War and worked in the United States’ involvement in the Iran-Iraq conflict, describes negative feelings against Muslims as “baffling.”
“I was in Bahrain for a year,” he said. “The people there have lives just like you and me. They go shopping. They take their kids to after-school activities. They have vacations. They have fundamentalists, but everyone has fundamentalists.”
Recent social efforts have been made to fill the chasm separating Muslim and Jewish people. In 2008, the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding organized 50 pairings Jewish-Islamic interfaith outreach around the country. Last year, the “twinning weekends” increased to 110 and this November it should be around the same, including 10 in New Jersey, according to Walter Ruby, Muslim-Jewish Relations Officer for the FFEU.
“What it says to me is this perception that we’re somehow at each other’s throats or the whole wave of anti-Muslim feeling that’s been out there in the media, isn’t always impacting on Muslim-Jewish relations here in the northeast and in New Jersey,” Ruby said. “With stories like this, you see Muslims and Jews wanting to reach out to each other.”
Mallach said he is intent on increasing relations between Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael and the Islamic Center of Union County as a “big step forward to building bonds.” Late last week, he mailed an invitation to Imam El Shazley Shaban for an annual pre-Thanksgiving interfaith service. And for those refuse tolerance or acceptance, Mallach offered a reality he hopes as some comfort.
“The bottom line is God is going to be served in that building,” he said.
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