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Allegations that money is root of yeshiva vs. synagogue fight

A synagogue’s refusal to leave a yeshiva’s building is all about money. So claims Michael Spiegel, executive director of Yeshiva Rambam, which has allowed Congregation Machzikei Torah to use part of its building for the last 35 years.

“The rabbi told me that they found a place and they are ready to move,” Spiegel said. “[He said] that if I give him money then he moves out, and if I don’t, he’s calling all the newspapers and trying to scare me. I asked him how much money he wants and he said he has to come back to us.”

Spiegel said there has been no further discussion about money since this conversation occurred two weeks ago.

Rabbi Moishe Toiv of Congregation Machzikei Torah did not respond to this allegation by press time.

Yeshiva Rambam asked the synagogue, which doesn’t have a lease, to leave so it could rent the space to the Hebrew Language Academy Charter School (HLA) for a heftier fee. The extra money is necessary since the yeshiva is struggling financially, Spiegel said.

The city Department of Education (DOE) did not say how much HLA, which is a Hebrew-themed public school that cannot teach religion, pays in rent. Spiegel wouldn’t reveal the figure but said it’s “probably much more” than the $30,000 the synagogue reportedly pays each year.

Toiv told this paper that the synagogue has no intention of leaving Yeshiva Rambam’s building, which sits on city-owned land at 3340 Kings Highway.

“The area is saturated now with synagogues,” he said. “Synagogues are opening up in storefronts, but we have a nice-sized place that’s not a storefront. We have no place to go that’s comparable.”

According to someone familiar with the situation, the synagogue still has control of the building’s auditorium, which HLA expected to use for school assemblies, programs for parents and morning arrival. Otherwise, HLA is running normally.

Yeshiva Rambam, which operates a high school in its building, is seeking a court order to evict the synagogue.

“We are using all legal aspects,” Spiegel said.

Toiv said his congregation of roughly 50 families will battle the eviction in court on Oct. 1.

He said the current course for Yeshiva Rambam is an insult to the school’s founders — survivors of World War II who in 1945 “used their hard-earned dollars to provide a Jewish education to their children.”

For roughly 25 years, the synagogue was a part of Rambam and existed rent-free; only in the past 10 years has it become a separate entity from the school, Toiv said. In 1998, the congregation began paying rent to Rambam.

“The last few years have been adversarial,” Toiv said. “There have been days over the summer where they didn’t provide us with air conditioning. They try to make us miserable.”

Still, the rabbi said, he remains hopeful a resolution allowing the synagogue to use the space on weekends will be worked out. “Jews never give up hope. We have outlasted everyone else,” he said.

Spiegel offered an adamant “no” to Toiv’s space-sharing suggestion.

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