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$13 Million Synagogue Sale Threatened by Power Struggle of Biblical Proportions

The Home of the Sages property on Bialystoker Place. Photograph: J. Oliver Conroy.

A new lawsuit is only the latest sign of an epic power struggle within the Home of the Sages of Israel, a tiny Lower East Side synagogue. The house of worship’s nondescript and rundown building on Bialystoker Place has become the subject of a ferocious real estate battle between different factions, each claiming to be the synagogue’s lawful representative.

In a suit filed two weeks ago – only the latest in a mounting pile of litigation – members of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue’s small congregation allege that Rabbi Samuel Aschkenazi, “who despite his title, is not the rabbi for Home of the Sages,” is attempting to sell the property out from under them to real estate developer Peter Fine – and then split the $13 million profit with Friends of Mosdot Goor, a Gerer Hasidic group unconnected to the synagogue.

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How the Synagogue Where George Burns Worshipped Became an Artist’s Studio


The preserved façade at 58-60 Rivington Street (Photo: Daniel Hoffman)

Hale Gurland was among the aspiring artists, bohemians, and hippies who crowded Soho in the 1970s. From the small room he rented on Wooster Street, the Jewish sculptor and painter ventured out one day in 1973 to buy a pair of cheap shoes. On his way, he noticed a derelict synagogue with a “For Sale” sign at 58-60 Rivington, at the corner of Elridge, a scene he described in a magazine interview a couple of years ago: “People were going inside the building because the doors were out, junkies were shooting up. I walked in, and the place looked like Dresden after the bombs.”

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