Forest Hills Jewish Center, a fixture in Queens, New York, to relocate

Congregants at the Forest Hills Jewish Center, a fixture in Queens since the late 1940s, approved the sale of their one-block building Thursday night. Now they will begin the process of finding a new home in the same area.

“The vote was overwhelmingly in favor of the sale,” said Carl Koerner, chairman of the construction committee.

The 400-family conservative congregation synagogue at 106-06 Queens Boulevard has been on the market for about a year. The sale price was $ 50 million, but Koerner said the terms of the sale to a developer will not be made public until they are approved by the state attorney general.

The 70-year-old building “does not meet the needs of our congregation,” explained Rabbi Gerald Skolnik, the congregation’s spiritual leader since 1982.

“It was set up during a period when the architecture of the synagogues was very frontal, with the clergy facing the congregation,” he said. “It is like a concert hall. There is nothing in the architecture of the synagogue that is intended to withstand changes in the needs of society.

“Today’s services are more participatory and intimate,” he said.

“There are stairs throughout the building, which are not handicap accessible,” Koerner said. “And there is only one elevator. We wanted something new that was the right size for the congregation and more in line with our operation and with all the new heating and air conditioning systems. “

Forest Hills, a middle-class neighborhood described as “city life in a suburban setting,” has about a dozen synagogues. At its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the Jewish Center, under the leadership of its then chief rabbi, Ben Zion Bokser, had a membership of more than 1,000 families.

It has faced challenges over the years, but nothing like the “immense challenges” it faced during the pandemic, Koerner said, including the loss of rental and catering income and the cancellation of fundraising events. He noted that the congregation “was able to get through it pretty well. We accepted the challenge as a result of hard work and a wonderful professional team. “

The congregation realized about 20 years ago that the building did not fit well, said Romi Narov, its president.

Over the next several years, “we entered the market several times, but we found a bear market and we stopped.” The price they were offered, he said, is now “the best we could get.”

When asked where they will move, Narov said there are “some potential new sites that could be adapted.”

“Now prospective owners will take us seriously because they know we now have the money,” he said.

WOMEN PRAY at the Rebbe’s grave in Queens, New York, in February. (credit: ITZIK ROYTMAN / CHABAD.ORG)

Skolnik said that because many members walk to the synagogue on Shabbat and holidays, the new building would have to be within walking distance of their current home.

Although the current building rents some of its unused rooms to outsiders, Narov said the plan is to move into a building that is large enough to accommodate one of its current tenants, JASA’s Community Self-Help Services. Selfhelp offers a wide range of services for elderly, frail and vulnerable New Yorkers. It is also the largest provider of comprehensive services for Holocaust survivors in North America.

“We look forward to taking them with us because Selfhelp fits our mission,” he said, noting that he currently rents one large room and several smaller rooms.

Koerner said one thing the leadership is “committed to is that we will not lose a day of operation, not even for an hour.”

He also stressed that the sale of the building is something that the congregation has been planning for more than 20 years and that it “has no relation to the pandemic.” He said he would expect the building to be demolished once the sale was completed and that the new owners of the site, which is zoned for mixed use, would erect a building for commercial and residential use.

Although the terms of the sale require the congregation to vacate the building for between one and a half and two and a half years, Narov said that “realistically, we will need two and a half years, especially if we are going to build a new facility. We will build on the ability to expand membership and we hope it grows. “

Skolnik said the congregation “could even attract different people with a different building. I think everything is for the best. … I have a deep appreciation for the history of this synagogue, but there comes a time when what is needed is a change. There is nothing good about this building except for the fact that it has history. But history cannot stand in the way of survival. And the story of the Forest Hills Jewish Center is about their congregation. The building must change. “

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